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Published: Friday February 28, 2014 MYT 11:30:02 PM
Updated: Friday February 28, 2014 MYT 11:31:08 PM

Ethnic Hungarians set to restore majority in Romanian government

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - An ethnic Hungarian party is likely to join Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta's ruling alliance within days, partially restoring his once-comfortable majority in parliament and votes needed to implement economic reforms.

Ponta's main coalition partner quit the government earlier this week after a series of disagreements. The exit sparked worries about Romania's ability to stick to commitments it made to the International Monetary Fund in exchange for a 4 billion euro aid deal.

The split left Ponta with just over half the seats in the lower house, enough to win a confidence vote due on Tuesday but not sufficient to pass laws comfortably in a parliament where party indiscipline and lawmaker absenteeism are common.

That has prompted Ponta, who with his former Liberal party allies had commanded a more than two-thirds majority in parliament, to seek out support from ethnic Hungarian party UDMR and other minorities to get his majority up to around 60 percent.

The Hungarians have 18 out of 404 seats in the lower house

and 8 out of 171 seats in the senate.

"UDMR will most likely join the cabinet," a senior party leader told Reuters. "It's insane politically not to govern, taking into account the latest opinion poll among Hungarians showing 80 percent of respondents want us in government.

"We can't help our communities from the sidelines."

The party will ask Ponta to offer the culture and environment ministry portfolios in exchange for their support, the official added. The party is due to formally announce its decision to join on Monday.

"A 70 percent government majority has just disintegrated ... UDMR has become the needle on the weighing scale, given our numbers in parliament, " UDMR leader Kelemen Hunor was quoted as saying by local media.

UDMR could also ask Ponta to back the founding of an university in the Transylvanian town of Targu Mures with tuition in Hungarian, and give Hungarians the right to raise ethnic flags on local government buildings, said media reports.

Around 1.3 million ethnic Hungarians now live in Romania, according to a 2011 census, or about 6.5 percent of population.

REASSURANCE

Both Ponta and the Romanian President Traian Basescu on Wednesday quickly moved to reassure investors that the economic programme of the European Union's second poorest country was on track after the government split.

High on the agenda for Romania this year is to speed up a process of selling off or restructuring inefficient state companies, as part of its precautionary aid deal with the IMF.

"It's going to be the same governing programme, we can add some requests to it but its main trunk stays unchanged," said Deputy Prime Minister Liviu Dragnea, a member of Ponta's Social Democrat party.

(Editing by Matthias Williams/Jeremy Gaunt)

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