Romania's PM resigns after losing party's backing

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania’s Prime Minister Mihai Tudose resigned on Monday after his Social Democrat Party (PSD) withdrew backing for him in an overwhelming vote, becoming the second premier to be ousted in seven months.

Tensions between Tudose, appointed in June, and the party’s powerful leader Liviu Dragnea erupted last week when the prime minister asked his interior minister, a close Dragnea ally, to quit, accusing her publicly of lying to him. She refused.

Monday’s vote by the 67-member PSD executive committee is seen consolidating the grip on power exerted by Dragnea, who pushed out Tudose’s predecessor Sorin Grindeanu in a no-confidence motion last summer.

Dragnea, whose party swept to an emphatic national election win in December 2016, is barred from becoming prime minister by a conviction in a vote-rigging case.

Tudose told reporters after the party vote: “They named me, they removed me. I take responsibility for my deeds and I do not regret anything in my actions (as premier).”

He said he would confirm his resignation in writing to President Klaus Iohannis on Monday night.

Dragnea said 60 members of the committee had voted to sack Tudose and four to retain him, with the rest abstaining.

Independent political commentator Cristian Patrasconiu said that, while the day’s events had strengthened Dragnea’s position, “it seems that it will be harder and harder to find a suitable and durable replacement (as premier).”

Deputy Prime Minister Paul Stanescu will be nominated to serve in Tudose’s place for an interim period of up to 45 days, officials said. Iohannis can endorse Stanescu or propose an alternative.

The PSD, which has a comfortable parliamentary majority, will have to nominate a permanent replacement during that period and its nominee needs backing from Iohannis and will face a vote of confidence in parliament.

Dragnea said the committee would meet on Tuesday to discuss proposals for a replacement.

“We want to avoid facing the same situation (replacement of a prime minister) for the third time,” he told reporters.

Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Alison Williams and John Stonestreet