Romanian president taps quarantined interim PM to form new government

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romanian President Klaus Iohannis asked quarantined interim Prime Minister Ludovic Orban to form a new government on Friday that parliament could approve as early as Saturday, ending a political stalemate and focusing on the coronavirus crisis.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

Earlier on Friday, Orban said he and his entire cabinet would quarantine themselves after coming into contact with a senator who was later confirmed to have the coronavirus.

Lawmakers toppled Orban’s minority Liberal government at the start of February, opening the way for an early election his party was confident of winning, but his cabinet has continued running the country on an interim basis with limited powers.

Since then rival parties have been jockeying for position ahead of local and national elections.

But the onset of the coronavirus, which has so far infected 75 people in the European Union member state, means Orban’s renomination could pass easily through parliament - restoring full powers to his government to fight the outbreak.

“All discussions with politicians were mature and constructive, everyone understands the special crisis situation does not leave room for political battles but for urgent solutions,” Iohannis said.

After Orban’s quarantine, Iohannis held consultations with parties via teleconference.

Orban said earlier that a senator who attended a meeting of the Liberal Party’s senior figures on Monday had since tested positive for the virus. He added that he, his 17-member cabinet and all Liberal senators would quarantine themselves and be tested.

“All government members ... will do their duty and take all the measures to fight coronavirus, regardless of whether they are confirmed to have the virus or not,” Orban told reporters.

He urged journalists who had covered his news conferences to seek testing as well.

Orban has held meetings with leaders of other political parties this week, as well as with Iohannis and officials including the central bank governor.

Romania holds a local elections in June, with a general election likely in November.

The Romanian leu held steady against the euro, trading at 4.8225 per euro at 1400 GMT. The bluechip share index recovered some losses along with other stocks across the region.

While central and eastern Europe has had fewer confirmed cases of the new virus than in western neighbours, the region’s governments have taken some of the swiftest steps to contain the spread, including curbing or controlling international travel to their countries, closing schools and banning large gatherings.

Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Pravin Char and Alex Richardson