Romanian Parliament Approves New Government

Published February 9, 2012 6:18PM (EST)

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's Parliament approved a new government led by a former spy chief on Thursday, and he promised to keep up the austerity measures the country imposed to win international loans but to raise public-sector salaries as soon as he can.

"An era of prosperity will not begin tomorrow," said Prime Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, who is known for his pro-American outlook and close ties with President Traian Basescu.

The change of government became necessary Monday, when Emil Boc, who had served as Romania's prime minister since 2008, suddenly resigned following weeks of widespread protests over the austerity measures and declining living standards.

The nation's ruling coalition hopes its popularity will be improved by Ungureanu and his new Cabinet before parliamentary elections later this year.

But that may not be easy.

Lawmakers voted 237-2 to approve Ungureanu and his Cabinet on Thursday, but the opposition boycotted the vote, and later said it would contest the new government at the Constitutional Court, citing flaws in the validation process of ministers.

The new government was swiftly sworn in before Basescu, who said the Cabinet, with many young ministers, sends a strong signal that it's time for the younger generation to change politics.

"I believe the time of your generation has come. The most important thing for Romania is that you, the young ones, succeed," Basescu said.

Basescu said he expects more transparency and reforms from the new government. He also praised Boc's former one, saying its hard work and unpopular measures have stabilized Romania's economy.

After his government was approved, Ungureanu, 43, said: "I am serious, hardworking. I go to work at six in the morning and leave when the work is done." He called work "the most beautiful form of patriotism."

Ungureanu resigned as head of Romania's foreign intelligence service on Wednesday evening after he was appointed prime minister-designate.

"An era of prosperity will not begin tomorrow," Ungureanu cautioned, pledging to respect Romania's agreements with the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank.

"I am not coming in these hard times with unrealistic promises," he said, but added that the government may consider "prudent salary increases" in the public sector, if the economic situation allows it. He said his programs will be based on "prudence and responsibility."

Romanians took to the streets last month amid widespread anger about cuts that Boc's government had instituted to get a €20 billion ($26 billion) loan in 2009 from the IMF, the EU and the World Bank. The government needed the money to help pay salaries and pensions after its economy shrank more than 7 percent during the global credit crunch. The sales tax remains at 24 percent, one of the highest levels in the EU, and the government is still cutting public-sector jobs to reduce spending.

There is a widespread perception that the previous government did not care about the hardships that many Romanians face. Polls have shown the governing Democratic Liberal Party with about 20 percent support, compared with 50 percent for the opposition alliance of Social Democrats and Liberals.

Romania is expected to hold parliamentary elections in November.

Victor Ponta, leader of the Social Democracy Party, said that while a change of government is beneficial for Romania, citizens expect real change, not just new faces. He added that he has doubts about the competence of some of the ministers.

Ungureanu's Cabinet has seven ministers from the previous Cabinet, but new, younger ones for the key portfolios of economy, finance, interior ministry and agriculture. Critics have claimed that the newly appointed ministers, largely unknown to the public, may act as puppets of former ministers.

Some Romanians also are wary about Ungureanu because of his career as a spy chief in a country with seven intelligence services and no foreign enemies.

By Salon Staff

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