Archive for December, 2012

The Parliamentary Elections in Romania (9 December 2012): Chronicle of a Quagmire Foretold?

(The original piece on the Romanian Parliamentary elections has been first published in Baltic Worlds, here)

The results of December 9th 2012 Romanian elections for the two Houses of Parliament (the Chamber of Deputies, respectively the Senate) appear to validate what opinion polls have been registering during the whole electoral campaign. The governing coalition of PM Victor Ponta has won a sweeping majority, with the serious perspectives of profound changes on the Romanian political scene and a redrafting of the existing constitution in store.

These elections were the second time around when a “mixed member proportional representation electoral” system was in place, and consecrated the previously established electoral colleges, which represent sub-county level constituencies. The electoral threshold of 5% for each chamber has also been confirmed; however, the rule is circumvented if a party succeeds to win a minimum of 6 electoral colleges for the Chamber of Deputies and 3 colleges for the Senate with over 50%. Specific to this electoral system, a candidate wins a certain electoral college provided she/he receives more than 50% of the votes in said college. In case no candidate has won a majority, the seat is subsequently allocated through the D’Hondt method; if required, an extra number of seats for each chamber of Parliament might be allocated – it has already been speculated that the future Romanian legislative might have around 550 MPs as a direct consequence of this rule[i]. In addition to this, there are a certain number of seats allocated exclusively for the representatives of the legally acknowledged national minorities in the Chamber of Deputies (in total, 18 MPs)[ii].

With regard to voters turnout, compared to the previous Parliamentary elections in November 2008 – when a meager 39.26% of registered voters were present at the ballot boxes, with only 35.63% in the cities, and a slightly better turnout of 44.24% in the rural areas[iii] – these elections have been slightly better attended, with an average of 41.72% participation rate – 40.49% in the cities, respectively 43.40% in the rural areas[iv]. The numbers are telling for the lack of legitimacy that the two Houses of Parliament have constantly registered in the polls, indicative of the perceived remoteness of political elite (regardless of its ideological convictions) from the hardships of average citizens in Romania[v].


At present, the most important entity in Romanian politics seems to be the Social Liberal Union (USL/ Uniunea Social Liberală) consisting of the PM Ponta’s Romanian Social Democrats (PSD/ Partidul Social Democrat) and their allies the Center Right Alliance (ACD/ Alianţa de Centru Dreapta), which reunites the National Liberal Party (PNL/ Partidul Naţional Liberal) and the Conservative Party (PC/ Partidul Conservator). The USL has been created in February 2011 with the expressed aim to seize power from the then center-right conservative government, which was deemed to be under the tutelage of President Traian Băsescu. After a tumultuous beginning of the year, which witnessed two center-right conservative governments fall, the USL eventually succeeded to form a governing coalition under the premiership of the PSD leader Ponta.

Subsequently, the USL registered a very good result in the local elections on June 10th 2012: 45.85% for presidents of county councils; 38.46% for mayors; 49.80% for members of county councils[vi]. However, when comparing these numbers to the previous 2008 local elections, the constitutive parties of said alliance (namely, the PSD, the PNL, and the PC) have registered better results individually, totaling around 51%[vii]. In the aftermath of local elections in July 2012 the PSD entered a political alliance with its break-away wing, which had previously made the center-right conservative government possible, namely the National Union for Romania’s Progress (UNPR/ Uniunea Națională pentru Progresul României); the alliance thus created was named the Center Left Alliance (ACS/ Alianţa de Centru Stânga)[viii]. The two main parties in the USL alliance, namely the PSD and PNL appear to apply the principle of strict parity among themselves (despite the generally better score in polls by the former); thereby the appellation of the USL as a center-left coalition is not totally accurate.

Right of center on the political stage, the conservative Democratic Liberal Party (PDL/ Partidul Democrat-Liberal) had already registered a dip in electoral support in the local elections in June 2012, polling only 15.10% for presidents of county councils; 15.44% for mayors; 15.29% for members of county councils[ix]. Then the party was sanctioned, not necessarily for the austerity measures during the PDL-led cabinets of Emil Boc I (2008 – 2009), and especially Boc II (2009 – 2012) and the short-lived cabinet of Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu (February – May 2012), but mainly for its complete lack of sympathy for the hardships the average population has been going through from the beginning of the financial crisis, for its undisguised corruption, and contempt for the principles of democratic accountability.

By the end of September 2012, the newly elected PDL chair Vasile Blaga announced the creation of a political alliance reuniting the PDL, the Civic Force (FC/ Forța Civică), the pocket–party of former-PM Ungureanu, and a faction of the Christian–Democratic National Peasants’ Party (PNT-CD/ Partidul Naţional Ţărănesc-Creştin Democrat). The alliance was titled the Right (or Just) Romania Alliance (ARD/ Alianța România Dreaptă). The ARD left from the beginning with a major handicap in the electoral competition: in their internal survey in September 2012 the ARD scored somewhere around 22 to 24%, far below the 48% registered by the USL in the same poll[x]. Already by October 2012, the polls registered a serious decrease in the level of support for the ARD among the Romanian voters with only 16%, even below the PDL’s individual score[xi].

A new political presence that seems to have taken mainstream Romanian politics by storm and establish itself as the third largest party is the People’s Party-Dan Diaconescu (PP-DD/ Partidul Poporului Dan Diaconescu). The PP-DD polled 9.23% for presidents of county councils; 7.29% for mayors; 8.96% for members of county councils in the local elections in June 2012[xii]. The PP-DD is the product of eponymous TV-channel owner Dan Diaconescu. Diaconescu, more or less single-handedly, has founded the party and created its nation-wide network of branches. At a quick glance, the PP-DD appears to have a rather complex ideological makeup, displaying strong populist appeals, such as social justice to be undertaken in the framework of a strong state (which reminds of the former communist state); trial of all previous governments found to have mismanaged the country; confiscation of illicit fortunes gained from pillaging the public goods, but also some surprising stances, decidedly right wing neoliberal, such as tax cuts, and tax simplification[xiii]. All these are tinged with discrete nationalist appeals (the numerous and insistent references to supporting “Romanianism”, respecting the Romanian national anthem, subscription to Romanian Orthodox Christianity, etc.)[xiv].

Inspected more closely, however, the PP-DD political agenda displays strong similarities with that of the consecrated radical right populist (RRM) party in Romania, namely the Greater Romania Party (PRM/ Partidul România Mare). In particular, it is reminiscent of the PRM successful political campaign in the 2000 parliamentary and presidential elections, as it were personified by the party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor[xv]. Another similarity lies in that the PP-DD candidates had their candidacy endorsed “on air” at the TV station owned by Diaconescu (OTV). This comes to strengthen the classification of the PP-DD as an emerging radical right populist party, with a strong (male) leader that gives his formal ‘blessing’ to his acolytes live on TV. In this light, if in 2000 Tudor had a very influential weekly magazine at his disposal to maneuver his captive electorate, in 2012 Diaconescu has taken the process to a new level, having his own TV station. It is worth mentioning that the PRM appears to have lost most of its raison d’être, with Tudor comfortably enjoying the perks of being a Romanian representative in the European Parliament (EMP), thereby away from the forefront of Romanian national politics and the party’s rank and file left in a profound disarray as a direct consequence of his absence.

Last but not least, another consecrated presence in Romanian politics has been fighting for its political survival: the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR/ Uniunea Democrată Maghiară din România, RMDSZ/ Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség) that has traditionally represented the political interests of the Hungarian minority in Romania, the only ethnic party that competes in direct elections side by side with parties of the Romanian ethnic majority. In the local elections in June 2012, the UDMR/ RMDSZ has narrowly managed to fend off the negative effects of being in government, in way or another, for most of the past decade, and even succeeded to portray itself as a moderate and rational option in contrast to the radicalized nationalist escalations sponsored by the center-right conservative government of PM Viktor Orbán from Hungary – particularly the Hungarian Popular Party of Transylvania (PPMT/ Partidul Popular Maghiar din Transilvania, EMN/ Erdélyi Magyar Néppárt). As such, the UDMR/ RMDSZ registered some loses, but succeeded to collect 4.95% for presidents of county councils; 3.90% for mayors; 5.52% for members of county councils[xvi].


In this context, two competing events, which took place concomitantly in the capital Bucharest, signaled the start of the election campaign. The first, which was organized on October 18th 2012 on the National Arena in the presence of approximately 70.000 supporters, marked the official launch of the USL candidates in the presence of PM Ponta (PSD) and President of Senate Crin Antonescu (PNL). In a parallel event housed in the Palace of Parliament, the ARD candidates were officially presented within the larger framework of the congress of European People’s Party (EPP), to which the PDL is affiliated[xvii]. President Băsescu attended the latter event, and strengthened the animosity between the two branches of Romanian executive[xviii]. The ensuing campaign promised to be articulated along two clear cleavage lines: anti-austerity measures and redistribution vs. budget streamlining and financial discipline; renegotiation and rearrangement of powers (at times on the border of legality) of various public institutions vs. strengthening of the presidential institution as a guarantor of division of powers in the state.

These notwithstanding, the media monitoring agency ActiveWatch, in its comprehensive analysis undertaken between November 9th and November 22nd 2012, which was supposed to be the most effervescent period during the electoral campaign, reached the conclusion that what dominated the campaign were vague electoral messages with little if any relevance to the ongoing public debate, which was still dominated by the interventions of President Băsescu. More clearly, during the monitored period attention was monopolized by the dispute between President Băsescu and PM Ponta; the question of who were entitled to represent the country at the EU summit in late November 2012; and the eventual position Romania could afford in the context of ongoing negotiations with regard to the 2014–2020 EU budget. Illustrative of their parti pris, the TV channels Antena 3 and Realitatea TV have presented only the USL candidates (4, respectively 3 live presentations), while the B1TV had a clear preference for the center-right conservative candidates (9 live presentations of the ARD, and only 3 of the USL candidates); at the same time, the PP-DD candidates have been presented most often on its leader’s own OTV (55 out a total of 60 live presentations). In contrast, the state television TVR1 had a total of 11 live presentations, evenly distributed among the main political alliances and parties. As such, the USL candidates accumulated a total of 209 TV appearances, whilst the ARD had 157 appearances. Third were the PP-DD candidates, with 129 TV appearances, and at a significant difference were the candidates of the UDMR/ RMDSZ with 32, and respectively the PRM with only 22[xix].


From the provisional final data released by the Central Electoral Bureau (BEC/ Biroul Electoral Central) the USL is the clear victor of the present electoral competition, polling 58.63% of the votes for the Chamber of Deputies, respectively 60.10% for the Senate. Trailing behind, the ARD polled 16.50% for the Chamber of Deputies, respectively 16.70% of the votes for the Senate. The PP-DD has been confirmed as the third largest entity in Romanian politics, receiving 13.99% of the votes for the Chamber of Deputies, respectively 14.65% for the Senate. In turn, the UDMR/ RMDSZ has succeeded to mobilize its electorate and has passed the 5% electoral threshold, polling 5.13% for the Chamber of Deputies, and 5.23% for the Senate, respectively. Bellow the line, the PRM polled only 1.24% for the Chamber of Deputies, respectively 1.47% for the Senate, in a sense confirming the downward spiral the party has registered in the previous parliamentary elections. The other main political party competing for the votes of the Hungarian minority, the PPMT/ EMN has been unconvincing, polling only 0.64% for the Chamber of Deputies, respectively 0.79% for the Senate[xx]. At the moment, it seems that PM Ponta has successfully secured a seat in the coming legislative, whilst his direct counter-candidate, the PP-DD leader Diaconescu has not polled enough votes for a mandate. Among the ARD leadership, the results appear to be a cold shower, with both the PDL chair Blaga and the FC leader Ungureanu failing to poll a majority of votes in their respective electoral colleges, and thereby constrained to wait for the redistribution of seats for the future Senate.

How the percentages above are to be translated into MPs in the new Romanian legislative remains to be established. However, one of the surprising effects of the December 9th 2012 elections is that the number of Romanian MPs will definitely increase. It will be a significant increase, at that – a bitter irony, having in mind that on November 22nd 2009 some 77% of the voters (50.16% of the Romanian population with a voting right) have supported the initiative to reduce the two Houses of Parliament to a maximum of 300 MPs[xxi]. Even more so, as the preliminary data from the 2011 census have indicated, the total population in Romania has shrank significantly, and consequently so did the body of electors; however, the Ponta government has nonetheless chosen to enter the electoral competition based on the old data, which had been employed for the 2008 parliamentary elections. The immediate consequence is that the new legislative will swell, with an excess of between 50 to 80, or even 100 MPs, more clearly to a total number of 550, or even 580 MPs[xxii]. It is yet unclear how this would be explained to the average citizens who, for the past years, have witnessed a continuous depreciation of their living standard, and have been told continuously by the political elite that the state budget is limited.

Another uncertain issue is that of the future government and the name of next PM. President Băsescu has indicated in several occasions that he does not regard the PSD leader Ponta as a suitable PM, although the categorical victory of the USL might constrain President Băsescu to reconsider his stance. These notwithstanding, the future PM and government will have to address the worsening of Romanian economy, and the need to rein in corruption; reply to the constant critique voiced by the EU bodies with regard to the meager percentage of absorption of the allocated funds, and the issue of respecting the democratic system of checks and balances.

Post scriptum: According to the latest data provided by the BEC, the Romanian Houses of Parliament are to increase to an unprecedented 588 MPs (118 MPs more than the previous legislature). More clearly, the USL has a total of 395 MPs, the ARD has 80 MPs, the PP-DD 68 MPs, whilst UDMR/ RMDSZ 27 MPs. In addition to these, the Chamber of Deputies has 18 MP seats reserved for the representatives of legally acknowledged national minorities in Romania (see detailed information in the table below). What is worth keeping in mind in this context, however, is that the electoral law, which has actually led to the present oversizing of the legislature, is the one that has ensured the presence of other parties than the USL alliance in the Houses of Parliament. More clearly, through redistribution there have been allocated some extra seats to all parties: the PP-DD was allocated an addition of 61MPs; the PDL received an extra of 55 MPs; the USL was allocated 1 MP extra; and the UDMR/ RMDSZ received too 1MP in addition [xxiii].

Political entities Chamber of Deputies Romanian Senate
Alliance Party Votes (%) Seats Votes (%) Seats
USL PSD 58.63 273 PSD+ UNPR: 158 MPs

PNL: 102 MPs

PC: 13 MPs

60.10 122PSD+ UNPR: 63 MPs

PNL: 51 MPs

PC: 8 MPs

ARD PDL 16.50 56PDL: 52 MPs

FC: 3 MPs


16.70 24PDL: 52 MPs

FC: 1 MPs


PP-DD 13.99 47 MPs 14.65 21 MPs
UDMR/RMDSZ 5.13 18 MPs 5.23 9 MPs
PRM 1.24 1.47
PPMT/ EMN 0.64 0.79
Minorities 18 MPs

Figure1. Romanian 2012 Parliamentary elections (data as of December 12th 2012) ©Norocel

[i], accessed on 2012-12-11.

[ii] William Downs, “The 2008 parliamentary election in Romania”, Electoral Studies 28(3) (2009), p. 511.

[iii], accessed on 2012-12-11.

[iv], accessed on 2012-12-11.

[v], accessed on 2012-12-11.

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[xv] Cf. Tom Gallagher, Theft of a Nation. Romania since Communism, London, UK (2005): Hurst & Company, p. 272; Ov Cristian Norocel, “Heteronormative Constructions of Romanianness: A Genealogy of Gendered Metaphors in Romanian Radical-Right Populism 2000–2009”, Debatte: Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe 19(1-2) (2011), p. 454; Paul E Sum, “The radical right in Romania: Political party evolution and the distancing of Romania from Europe”, Communist and Post–Communist Studies 43(1) (2010), p. 27.

[xvi], accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xvii], accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xviii] In an earlier move, PM Ponta and the USL have attempted to impeach President Băsescu in July 2012. However, the referendum failed to meet the required turnout and consequently Băsescu has been returned his presidential prerogatives. The tensions were nonetheless far from over. In the aftermath of the December elections, President Băsescu has been hinting that he might nominate someone else than PM Ponta as the future prime minister, even if the USL would be confirmed the victors.–planurile-traian-basescu-1_50c51e86596d720091dc7134/index.html, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xix], accessed on 2012-12-11.

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[xxiii], accessed on 2012-12-12.

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Wednesday, December 12th, 2012 Research No Comments