* Minister's exit unlikely to discourage investors
* Minister had backed controversial bank debt scheme
* Row underscores rising tensions in election year
(Adds analyst comment, details, background)
By Radu Marinas
BUCHAREST, Feb 6 Romanian Finance Minister
Daniel Chitoiu resigned from the coalition government on
Thursday, a move two senior party sources said came after he
lost the support of his Liberal Party in a policy row.
The sources told Reuters that Chitoiu had failed to keep his
party informed about a plan by its partners to reschedule the
bank debts of low-income borrowers for two years. The policy is
seen as a populist appeal to poorer voters in an election year.
"He resigned, he was blamed for not discussing those plans
with the party," one source said.
Health Minister Eugen Nicolaescu is set to take over, the
sources said, adding an announcement on this would be made on
Political squabbling has set back Romania's development for
most of the 24 years since the fall of communist rule. Its
economy trails other emerging EU countries such as Poland and
the Czech Republic.
But Chitoiu's exit is unlikely to unnerve investors, even at
a time of turbulence in emerging markets. A key aid deal with
the International Monetary Fund - crucial to the country's
credibility - was secured earlier this week. Moreover, the
finance minister's responsibilities were diluted in 2012 with
the creation of a separate budget ministry.
"A new minister will be appointed, so it really doesn't
matter," said Ionut Dumitru, the chief economist at Raiffeisen
Bank in Bucharest. "We have a deal on track with the IMF and
commitments that are underway, and investors know this."
Chitoiu, an economist, has also served as a deputy prime
minister since 2012. After news of his exit broke, he told
reporters he was leaving the government to focus on party
activity for the upcoming elections.
Chitoiu's departure was agreed in a closed-door meeting of
senior Liberal party members. It signals the rising political
temperature in the European Union's second-poorest member ahead
of presidential and EU elections this year.
Prime Minister Victor Ponta has envisaged a scheme for
Romanian borrowers who earn less than 1,601 lei ($490) per month
and do not have debts older than three months, to halve their
monthly instalments for two years.
His Social Democrat party has governed Romania in coalition
with the Liberals since late 2012, an alliance that holds more
than two-thirds of the seats in parliament.
Chitoiu had thrown his weight behind the proposed bank
lending scheme, which he announced on Monday. But the Liberal
party has not publicly endorsed the policy and several senior
party members had torn into Chitoiu for backing it.
The IMF mission chief to Romania told Reuters on Tuesday
improved macroeconomic fundamentals have helped the Black Sea
state withstand recent turbulence in emerging markets, but it
must be careful to avoid market uncertainty in an election year.
The IMF struck an agreement with Bucharest this week over a
4 billion euro ($5.44 billion)standby aid facility, despite
disagreements over an excise tax on fuels between Ponta and the
president, Traian Basescul.
($1 = 0.7353 euros)
(Editing by Matthias Williams and Toby Chopra/Larry King)