Western-educated banker, Romanian PM Florin Citu wins bitterly disputed party leadership race

Foto: INQUAM/Octav Ganea

Romanian Prime Minister Florin Citu on Saturday was elected leader of the ruling National Liberal Party after months of internal dissent and attacks which have dented public support and threatened to split the party in two.

Premier Citu won 2,878 votes to oust the incumbent who is also parliament speaker Ludovic Orban. He got 1,898 votes, according to the results.

Pro-European group

The victory of the 49-year-old former banker who previously served as finance minister cements the center-right party’s image as a pro-business and modern pro-European group.

However, he now faces a potential no-confidence vote in Parliament which could see his minority government ousted. That would lead to more political instability as the government faces a fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and inflation fueled by a liberalization of energy prices.

It wasn’t an easy win. He was booed as he gave his speech by rivals. He has endured the kind of attacks normally expected from an opposition party. They included the digging up a 20 year-old drink-driving offense in the U.S. when he was a student.

Although a relative newcomer, Mr Citu enjoyed the public support of President Klaus Iohannis, a former Liberal Party chairman from the pro-European wing of the party.

Tactical advantage

The premier also had the tactical advantage of being prime minister, a post that his rival had to step down from after a poor showing in December 2020 parliamentary elections.

Mr Iohannis attended Saturday’s congress in Bucharest, entering the conference hall with both candidates.

The president, who is significantly taller than both men, diplomatically sat between the two, rather like a parent.

Local party leaders

Mr Orban, 58, who has been a party member and active in Romanian politics since the 1990s, enjoyed the support of powerful local party leaders who often decide the result of a leadership race. He became party leader in 2017.

Although he does not formally identify as a conservative, Mr Orban_ who has a Romanian mother and ethnic Hungarian father_ was supported by the party’s conservatives which oppose same-sex unions for example. He also had the support of the socially conservative  opposition Social Democratic Party.

They were used to doing business with him and saw him as a more reliable ally. The Western-educated Mr Citu has done away with the traditional image of a Romanian prime minister.

Rock songs

He uses rock songs to brandish his image, occasionally walks to work and is known to be uncompromising in internal party discussions. He keeps his private life private.

A junior party walked out of the coalition government this month and has threatened a vote of no-confidence. Mr Citu will likely try to woo them back into the coalition now he has cemented his position as party leader.

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