Romania's PM resigns amid protests, winter deaths

A protester waves the Romanian flag from a window of Bucharest University headquarters in Bucharest earlier this year

Story highlights

  • A former foreign minister is appointed as Romania's prime minister
  • He says his political independence should help him on the job
  • An opposition leader opposes the move, saying new elections would be better
  • For weeks, protesters decried austerity measures and urged the president to quit
Romania's prime minister resigned Monday in the wake of weeks of public protests against austerity measures and a deadly spell of bitterly cold weather.
The resignation makes Romania the sixth European country to see a prime minister fall amid the debt crisis sweeping European Union member states.
Besides budgetary issues, criticism has also mounted over the government's handling of a recent, and continuing, cold snap -- including snow-clogged streets, widespread power outages and other problems that contributed to the deaths of at least 34 people.
Announcing his resignation on television, Prime Minister Emil Boc said he is not the kind of person to hang on to power, and that it is time to make space for another government.
He admitted making mistakes, but said he is sure Romania has a bright future.
"We made this decision in order to alleviate the social and political situation in the country, (and) to not lose what Romanians have won with so much suffering -- the country's economic stability," said Boc, who had been prime minister since 2008.
Later Monday, President Traian Basescu appointed Mihai Razvan Ungureanu as his pick to be the nation's next permanent prime minister.
The 43-year-old Ungureanu was Romania's foreign minister from 2004 to 2007, and since then he has been the head of the east European nation's foreign intelligence service.
"I call for a new government to step in immediately," Basescu said in remarks broadcast on Romanian television. "Tomorrow, the new prime minister will negotiate with the ruling coalition to form a new government."
According to Romania's constitution, Ungureanu is now the country's new prime minister by virtue of having been appointed by Basescu. But he must get the approval of parliament in order to officially form a new government, including lining up a slate of ministers.
Ungureanu accepted the appointment, saying his political independence should help him fulfill his mandate.
"The government needs strong parliamentary support and the citizens' support as well," he said.
Parliament is expected to approve a new government in the next 60 days. If it does not, parliament would be dissolved and early elections would be held. Currently, Romania is expected to have a local election in the spring and parliamentary elections in the fall.
Opposition politicians, who have boycotted parliamentary sessions since February 1, have called for new elections for a totally fresh start in Romania -- and not a more incremental step of a new prime minister appointed by President Basescu, and with it a new government.
After Monday's announcements, liberal leader Crin Antonescu signaled that he and other opposition leaders do not plan to back Ungureanu or any new government that might form under him.
"We believe this is an improvised solution by Basescu to keep the current coalition in power, although most Romanians don't agree with this," said Antonescu.
The opposition met Monday evening with the president to discuss the political situation. Some echoed a sentiment voiced by protesters in recent weeks demanding that, in addition to Boc and his government, that Basescu himself resign.
Antonescu said, "President Basescu's resignation is the only way we could end this political crisis, but he told us that he won't step down."
Some Romanians blame the government for imposing harsh austerity measures after the country received €20 billion from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union.
Demonstrators have carried banners reading, "What are we going to eat, Basescu?" and "Down with the government."
Protests turned violent on January 15, when some of the thousands of people gathered in central Bucharest clashed with police. Stores were vandalized and dozens were wounded.
The austerity measures, tensions between protesters and authorities, and political turnover are not unique to Romania.
In Europe, there have been months of unrest in Greece, while Ireland, Italy, Spain and Portugal have also seen changes of government as their leaders try to cut spending in order to stabilize the common, multi-national currency, the euro.