Romanian parliament approves new government

ALINA WOLFE MURRAY
Prime Minister designate, Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, currently the head of Romania's foreign intelligence service, delivers a speech, in Bucharest, Romania, Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. The designation, by President Traian Basescu, follows the resignation of  former Premier Emil Boc and his government.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
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Prime Minister designate, Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, currently the head of Romania's foreign intelligence service, delivers a speech, in Bucharest, Romania, Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. The designation, by President Traian Basescu, follows the resignation of former Premier Emil Boc and his government.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's Parliament on Thursday approved a government led by former spy chief Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, which the ruling coalition hopes will improve its popularity ahead of parliamentary elections this year.

Lawmakers voted 237-2 for Ungureanu's Cabinet. The opposition boycotted the vote, and later said it would contest the new government at the Constitutional Court, citing flaws in the validation process of ministers.

"I am serious, hardworking, I go to work at six in the morning and leave when the work is done," Ungureanu, 43, said, after his government was approved. He called work "the most beautiful form of patriotism."

Ungureanu resigned as head of Romania's foreign intelligence service Wednesday evening after he was appointed prime minister-designate. That followed the resignation of Emil Boc, who had faced weeks of protests against his biting austerity measures.

"An era of prosperity will not begin tomorrow," Ungureanu cautioned, pledging to respect Romania's agreements with the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank.

"I am not coming in these hard times with unrealistic promises," he said, but added that the government may consider "prudent salary increases" in the public sector if the economic situation allows it.

Ungureanu is known for his pro-American outlook and is a close ally of President Traian Basescu. He said his program is based on "prudence and responsibility."

Romanians took to the streets last month amid widespread anger about cuts the government instituted to get a euro20 billion ($26 billion) loan in 2009 from the IMF, the EU and the World Bank. The government needed the money to help pay salaries and pensions after its economy shrank more than 7 percent during the global credit crunch.

Sales tax remains at 24 percent, one of the highest levels in the EU, and the government is still cutting public sector jobs to reduce spending.

There was a wide perception that the previous government did not care about the hardships being faced by most of Romania's people. Polls show the ruling Democratic Liberal Party with about 20 percent support in polls, compared with 50 percent for the opposition alliance of Social Democrats and Liberals. Romania is expected to hold parliamentary elections in November.

Victor Ponta, leader of the Social Democracy Party, said while a change of government is beneficial for Romania, citizens expect real change, and not just new faces. He added that he had doubts about the competence of some ministers.

Ungureanu's Cabinet has seven ministers from the previous cabinet, but new, younger ministers for the key portfolios of economy, finance, interior ministry and agriculture.

Critics say the newly appointed ministers, largely unknown to the public, may act as puppets of former ministers.

Ungureanu's nomination has also been greeted with a degree of wariness in Romania, because of his career as a spy chief in a country with seven intelligence services and no foreign enemies