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Romania mired in political instability

From students to seniors, Romanians worry about their jobs, currency and future.

Romanian police stand by a poster depicting late Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, which reads: "I too have taken responsibility," alluding to a Romanian legal procedure which enables the government to pass a law without parliamentary debate, in front of Victoria palace in Bucharest, Oct. 7, 2009. Thousands of Romanian trade unionists protested against public sector pay cuts in front of government offices in a demonstration of growing discontent over IMF-mandated fiscal reforms. (Bogdan Cristel/Reuters)

CLUJ-NAPOCA, Romania — As she is having lunch in a small fast-food restaurant downtown, Mirela Popa cannot take her eyes off the currency exchange board across the street.

“In half an hour the euro went up three times,” she said. “And it’s all because of their stupid political games. The country is sinking and they could not care less.”

Mirela’s anger is by no means an exception in this city of 400,000 a day after the minority government fell after a no-confidence vote in Parliament. The events leading up to the first toppling of a government — led by the centrist Prime Minister Emil Boc — in post-communist Romania have led people here to have doubts about the country's stability.

A primary concern of millions of Romanians is that political insecurity would cause a further devaluation of the national currency RON against the euro, and therefore ever higher loan payments, since many loans are denominated in euros.

“It’s been terribly hard this year with the economy going bad, but it seems that it can get even worse now, due to this political circus,” said Alina Marian, whose monthly bills to different banks amount to 80 percent of her total income at the moment. Like most Romanians, Marian earns in RON but has loans in euros.

In addition to practical concerns, the political upheaval has eroded Romanians' trust in their political leaders. The country's top five parties have frequently clashed in recent months. Two weeks ago, the governing coalition dissolved abruptly over a fight concerning a ministerial post.

After an avalanche of executive orders in the last few months, which bypassed Parliament and overhauled the Civil and Penal Codes, the education system and state employment rules, confusion is widespread. The Boc Government was eventually ousted this week by the no-confidence vote when it sought to pass another executive order on pension caps.

“We’re in a complete mess, which I doubt the next government will manage to clear up,” said 64-year-old engineer Gheorghe Preda. “Look at my situation: I have no idea now whether I will have to retire soon, or stay in my current job, and then for how long, and under which salary conditions?”

High school seniors, whose graduation exams — known collectively as the Baccalaureate — have been modified several times recently, are also uncertain. They wonder whether a new government will introduce any further changes to the exams' content or dates.