Romania's PM-designate fails to win parliament confidence

FILE PHOTO: Dacian Ciolos, leader of the USR party, attends a news conference at the headquarters of the USR PLUS alliance, in Bucharest, Romania, September 23, 2021. Inquam Photos/George Calin via REUTERS

BUCHAREST (Reuters) -Romania's designated Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos failed to win a parliamentary vote of confidence for his centrist minority cabinet on Wednesday, extending a political stalemate at a time of rising COVID-19 infections.

Romania, one of the European Union's poorest states, has been in political paralysis since a liberal-led cabinet was toppled by parliament on Oct. 5, threatening the economic recovery from the pandemic and efforts to cut twin deficits at a time of rising energy prices.

Under the constitution, President Klaus Iohannis would need to make a new nomination after consultations with political groupings, likely from the ranks of his Liberal party.

"Our party was the sole to have wanted to take responsibility, to govern, at these tough times," Ciolos told legislators. "We aimed to solve this current health crisis."

Final ballot data has not yet been released, but a Social Democrat deputy said Ciolos was "at least 140 votes short" of the required threshold to win.

The centrist ruling coalition of caretaker premier Florin Citu collapsed earlier this month after Ciolos' USR party withdrew its ministers in a row over a regional development fund that also cost Citu's government its majority.

Ruling Liberals, the USR and ethnic Hungarians' UDMR grouping controlled 57% of seats before the coalition collapse.

Should Iohannis' second nomination also fail to win parliament's backing, the president can dissolve the legislature and call an early election, an unlikely scenario as the fragmented opposition is reluctant to take over.

Some pundits say a likely outcome could be a restoration of the previous coalition but with a different prime minister, in keeping with USR's condition for rejoining a government.

Romania reported a record number of daily COVID-19 deaths and infections on Tuesday, as a hospital system stretched to breaking point by the EU's second-lowest vaccination rate ran out of intensive care beds.

(Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Alex Richardson)

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