BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's ruling leftists will stop short of proposing a new prime minister to replace Victor Ponta, the party's leader said, and wants any nominees to have wide political backing while the centrist opposition eyes an early election.
Ponta, on trial in a landmark corruption case, quit on Wednesday in a surprise move, after tens of thousands of protesters across the country demanded resignations over a deadly fire in a Bucharest nightclub that killed 32.
Further peaceful protests involving up to 20,000 mostly young people, some carrying the country's national red, yellow and blue flags, took place in downtown Bucharest in the University square in the evening.
"We should first agree on a package of political goals for the upcoming period and make sure Romania's progress is continued ... and avert seeing a nominee knocking on the doors of parties to try to garner support," Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the Social Democrats (PSD), said after consultations with President Klaus Iohannis.
Dragnea's party is ready to agree either to a cabinet led by a technocrat with "expert ministers" or to a broad-backed "national unity government," he said. It would even back early elections if that was the consensus among political leaders.
Holding a snap election would be a first for Romania. It would need either volunteer resignations by all of parliament's political groupings or two consecutive votes of no-confidence against two prime minister nominees within 60 days of the first nomination, a difficult requirement to meet.
Regular parliament elections are scheduled for Dec. 2016.
Of the other political parties, the opposition Liberals have said explicitly that they want snap polls and told Iohannis so during today's consultations, party co-leader Alina Gorghiu said.
Holding such elections would probably delay adoption of a new budget until April, a threat to the country's economic stability, Dragnea said.
The Romanian economy is expected to grow 3.5 percent in 2015 and 3.7 percent in 2016, according to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. That is some of the fastest growth forecast in south-eastern Europe, the EBRD said.
Earlier in the day, Iohannis appointed outgoing Education Minister Sorin Cimpeanu as interim prime minister to replace Ponta.
"I have an important message to make for you: I saw you, I heard you, your demands matter to me," Iohannis said, speaking of the protestors who had demanded Ponta's resignation.
The president set a midnight deadline for NGOs and street protesters to come up with a list of representatives by email to attend Friday's consultations with him.
Most commentators expect Ponta's resignation to produce a new cabinet, probably led by a technocrat, in the coming weeks. Iohannis will consult with political parties and the civil society on a new premier, in meetings that run until Friday.
"Our base case is for a caretaker government with broad political backing until late 2016 elections, which means that Romanian leu weakness could prove short-lived," ING Bank analysts in Bucharest said in a note.
Among the names advanced by some politicians are Dacian Ciolos, a former European agriculture commissioner; Vasile Dancu, a sociologist; and Florin Georgescu, first deputy governor of the central bank.
Editing by Larry King and Toby Chopra