Romania’s government collapsed Monday following weeks of protests against austerity measures, the latest debt-stricken government in Europe to fall in the face of raising public anger over biting cuts.
Emil Boc, who has been a prime minister since 2008, said he was resigning “to ease the social situation” after thousands of Romanians took to the streets in January to protest salary cuts, higher taxes and also a widespread perception that the government was not interested in the problems of ordinary people in this nation of 22 million.
Opposition parties called for early parliamentary elections, which are currently scheduled for November.
President Traian Basescu appointed Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu – the only minister in Boc’s Cabinet who is not a member of any political party – to be interim prime minister pending the formation of a new government. If the Parliament does not approve a new executive in 60 days it will be dissolved and new elections will be called. The ruling coalition and its partners from minorities, however, have enough votes to elect a new government.
The decision comes at a time when the country is starting to feel the effects of the widespread cuts that the government put in place in exchange for a €20 billion ($26 billion) loan from the IMF, the European Union and the World Bank in 2009, to help pay salaries and pensions after its economy shrank by more than 7 percent.
In 2010, Boc’s government increased sales tax from 19 percent to 24 percent and cut public workers’ salaries by a quarter to reduce the budget deficit.
The head of the IMF mission to Romania Jeffrey Franks said Sunday he was confident that economic reforms demanded by the IMF in exchange for the loan would continue even if the current government was no longer in office.
Boc urged the country’s feuding politicians to elect a new government quickly. He said had taken “difficult decisions thinking about the future of Romania, not because I wanted to, but because I had to.”
“There is a lot of resentment,” said Christian Mititelu, a political commentator and former head of the BBC Romanian service. “The austerity measures seem to have penalized those who worked for the state, retirees and people who depended on social security.”
Romania’s problems go deeper than its economic woes. Deep hostility between the government and opposition parties is reflected daily in the media. Opposition politicians and journalists who are critical of the government claim they are harassed.
Basescu, who is criticized for being inappropriately outspoken and confrontational, says he is committed to reform and is openly disdainful of the opposition. He has been credited by the IMF for his reforms and attempts to fight corruption.
Basescu began talks Monday afternoon with the country’s political parties about the formation of the new government.
Opposition politicians hailed the government’s collapse and called for early elections.
“This is a victory for those that demonstrated on the streets,” said Crin Antonescu, who heads the opposition Liberal Party. “The most corrupt, incompetent and lying government” since the 1989 anti-communist revolt has gone, he said.
Victor Ponta, the leader of the opposition Social Democracy Party said he would ask Basescu to call early elections.
Boc, meanwhile, defended his record.
“I know that I made difficult decisions, but the fruits have begun to appear,” he said in a statement. “In times of crisis, the government is not in a popularity contest, but is saving the country.”