Romanian Campaign Shifts Gears as Dincu Signals Premiership Bid

  • Dincu says he’d need wide support from parties, president
  • Romania will hold parliamentary elections in December

Romania’s election campaign has entered the home stretch, with Deputy Prime Minister Vasile Dincu becoming the first potential candidate to lead the next government as other likely contenders remain on the sidelines.

Dincu signaled his willingness to become premier in an interview in Bucharest on Thursday, saying that he’d be open to taking on the role if he can rely on a stable majority in parliament and the support of President Klaus Iohannis to push through a plan to develop infrastructure, health care and education. Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos and Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the poll-leading Social Democratic party, are both keeping their options open.

“There’s a possibility that I would accept to continue working in the government, but not without conditions,” said Dincu, 54. “There should be a strong political force behind a government that is committed to the rapid change of Romania. A reconstruction offer with a national development program behind it.”

The second-poorest European Union nation is preparing for elections to replace the technocratic cabinet that emerged after corruption scandals brought down Victor Ponta’s government a year ago. A nationwide anti-graft campaign that put hundreds of politicians and businessmen in prison has created a dearth of viable candidates for leadership positions, potentially opening the door for candidates such as Dincu, a former senior Social Democrat.

Dragnea, Ciolos

The Social Democrats, who were also the main force behind Ponta, have 40 percent support, compared with 30 percent for the Liberal Party, according to the polling company Avangarde. The September survey has a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points.

Dragnea, who’s being investigated by anti-corruption prosecutors and previously received a two-year suspended sentence for involvement in a vote-rigging case, late Thursday said the party wouldn’t name its candidate before the election.

“I don’t want to release a name as it will be the target of a smear campaign until the election time,” Dragnea said on a talk show on B1 TV. “We have a government proposal already, but I don’t want to release any names until the elections. We want to break the communication barriers until then and reach citizens and present our governing program, which should be the most important thing.”

‘Not Saying’

Ciolos also left his options open when asked about continuing after the election.

“I don’t intend to run for any position in these elections, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have a say in the debate,” Ciolos said on Digi24 TV late Thursday. “We’ve done good things that need to be continued. It doesn’t even matter that much if I’m the prime minister or not as long as the reforms we have started are continued. If there is a way I can contribute to that in the future, I’m not saying I’m not going to do it.”

With the economy growing at the fastest pace in the EU, Dincu also preached continuity and warned against handouts via tax cuts and wage increases as politicians compete on promises of fiscal loosening that threaten budget stability.

“There’s a populist pressure that’s coming in from parliament as lawmakers approve pension increases, salaries,” said Dincu. “We’ve resisted so far, but from next year a political government will be in place.”

Taxes, Wages

The leu has weakened 1.2 percent against the euro in the past month, the second-worst performance among 24 emerging-market currencies tracked by Bloomberg, as policy makers debated the conversion of loans denominated in Swiss francs. The benchmark BET stock index has lost 2.1 percent this year.

Dincu warned that fiscal space to fund proposed additional tax cuts and pension and wage increases is very limited. Implementing a balanced state-wage law would take about five years, he said.

While facing criticism from politicians for drafting next year’s budget before ceding power, the government will outline a plan that allocates funds mainly to investment, education and health care, according to Dincu.

“We hope that this budget will be accepted by the politicians,” he said. “There’s no more room for wage increases, and we already have a rational five-year plan that’s been agreed with the unions. Any increase should be very well targeted. Throwing money at wages and pensions is just populism.”

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