March 12, 2020 / 3:56 PM / 23 days ago

Facing coronavirus spread, Romania's president makes new push to form government

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romanian President Klaus Iohannis called talks with political parties for Friday to try to get parliament to endorse a new prime minister next week so he can focus entirely on tackling the coronavirus outbreak.

Prime Minister-designate Florin Citu attends a news conference after being nominated to form a transitional government, in Bucharest, Romania, February 26, 2020. Inquam Photos/George Calin via REUTERS

Prime minister-designate Florin Citu abandoned his bid to become premier earlier in the day, minutes before a scheduled parliamentary vote of confidence that his Liberals had hoped to lose in order to trigger an early election.

But with concerns growing in Romania about the spread of coronavirus and the economic impact it could have, all sides seem more ready to compromise.

Cases in Romania have doubled over the past 24 hours to 52.

“My number one priority is to have a government next week. I urge parliament to vote on a new cabinet. I need a cabinet to dedicate myself 100% to combating coronavirus,” Iohannis told reporters.

He will meet the parties separately from 1100 GMT on Friday and was expected to nominate a prime minister later, probably around 1600 GMT.

Pundits expect Iohannis to ask Ludovic Orban, Citu’s party boss, to form a new cabinet - just over a month after he was toppled as prime minister.

The political turbulence began in early February, when lawmakers ousted Orban’s centrist minority government after three months, opening the way for an early parliamentary election that his Liberals were confident of winning.

Iohannis re-appointed Orban, a close ally to form a new cabinet, but his decision was struck down by the Constitutional Court.

Orban’s cabinet, which includes Citu as finance minister, has been running the country in the interim with limited powers.

If those powers were to be restored, Orban could still face an uphill struggle to steer Romania through the coronavirus crisis and other economic difficulties.

The European Union state was already grappling with widening budget and current account deficits, while already-approved fiscal generosity ahead of local and parliamentary elections has put pressure on assets and rating outlooks.

A new national election is most likely to take place in November or early December.

The Romanian leu EURRON= did not react to Thursday’s news, holding steady against the euro. Bucharest’s blue chip index .BETI fell more than 8% to a one-year low as investors fretted over the economic damage of coronavirus.

Editing by Mike Collett-White and Alison Williams

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