2014 in Romanian Politics: More Active Citizens Moving Past the Ethno-Nationalist Nostalgia?


It has been a very busy political year in Romania. The EU Parliament elections in May 2014 seemed to confirm the strong position enjoyed by the alliance of social-democrats (Partidul Social Democrat, PSD), which polled 38% of the votes and received half of the seats allocated for Romania (16 MEPs). First, the PSD was followed at a significant distance by the liberals (Partidul Naţional Liberal, PNL), which polled 15% (6 MEPs) and conservatives (Partidul Democrat Liberal, PDL), which polled 12% (5 MEPs). The rest of the seats into the EU Parliament were distributed among an independent candidate (Mircea Diaconu), the party representing the interests of the Hungarian minority (Uniunea Democrată Maghiară din România, UDMR/Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség, RMDSZ) (2 MEPs), and the newly formed conservative party (Partidul Mișcarea Populară, PMP) (2 MEPs). Second, the EU Parliament elections appear to indicate that the political influence of outgoing president Traian Băsescu, at the end of his second mandate, is long past its zenith. More clearly, the PMP, despite being endorsed and heavily supported by outgoing president Băsescu polled only a modest 6.21%. Third, reflecting the political competition to come in the fall for the presidential elections, in the aftermath of the EU Parliament elections, the PNL renounced its political affiliation to the European Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party (ALDE) and joined the competing conservative Group of the European People’s Party (EPP), joining in several other Romanian political parties (namely, PDL, UDMR/RMDSZ, and the newly accepted PMP). Since, the PSD maintained its affiliation to the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the consequence of these elections was that at EU level, the political landscape in Romania indicated a polarization between a social-democratic pole, crystallized around the PSD, and a rather centrifugal conservative-popular grouping, which was formed of the other political entities. However, in national politics the picture was complicated further by the Victor Ponta II cabinet, which since February 2014 reunited the PSD, several smaller parties, and the UDMR/RMDSZ.


For the presidential elections in the fall (the first round scheduled for 2 November; respectively the run-offs for 16 November), 14 candidates succeeded to collect the necessary endorsement from at least 200 000 voters for their candidacy to be validated. Among these candidates, in the eve of the first round of Presidential elections, opinion polls suggested that acting PM Ponta (PSD) received approximately 40% of the voting intentions, followed by Klaus Iohannis, the mayor of Sibiu (in German, Hermannstadt) and candidate of the newly formed Liberal Christian Alliance (ACL) between the PNL and PDL, who collected some 30% of the voting intentions. Four other candidates managed to receive between 10% and 5% of the voting intentions, Monica Macovei (independent, former PDL member); Teodor Meleșcanu (independent, former director of Romanian foreign intelligent services); Călin Popescu Tăriceanu (independent, leader of a PNL breakaway grouping under the name Reformist Liberal Party), and last but not least Elena Udrea (PMP). Among the other eight candidates, none of which polled more than around 3% of the voting intentions, it is worth noting Hunor Kelemen (UDMR/RMDSZ) and two populist radical right politicians: Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the nearly extinct Greater Romania Party (Partidul România Mare, PRM); Dan Diaconescu, leader of the newcomer People’s Party-Dan Diaconescu (Partidul Poporului-Dan Diaconescu, PP-DD).

The electoral campaign was marked by the emergence of several rather peculiar issues in a contemporary electoral context: appeals to religion and ethnic belonging, and to family status. Celebrating his birthday in September, an overly confident PM Ponta launched his candidacy in front of 70 000 supporters gathered on the National Arena in Bucharest, with the slogans “Proud to be Romanians” (“Mândri că suntem români”) and “Victor Ponta – the president that unites!” (“Victor Ponta – preşedintele care uneşte!”), in a ceremony abounding of references to the Romanian ethno-nationalist project and bringing religion in the political campaign. Illustrative of this, the head of Romanian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Daniel, awarded at the beginning of October one of the highest ecclesiastical distinctions to the chief of Ponta’s electoral campaign, Liviu Dragnea, apparently for his efforts to renovate churches in close collaboration with the Orthodox Church[1]. Indeed, Ponta chose to profile himself as part of the ethnic Romanian majority and a practicing Romanian Christian Orthodox. His statement was regarded to be a direct attack against the conservative-popular candidate, Iohannis (in German, Johannis) being part of the German ethnic minority in Romania and of Lutheran faith. Iohannis indicated coldly that Romania is a secular state and that he holds only Romanian citizenship[2]. Another personal attack against Iohannis was registered later on during the campaign, when the spokeswoman of Ponta’s presidential campaign Gabriela Firea commented on the suitability of Iohannis for the presidential function, arguing that being childless (like the Iohannis couple) is a sign incomplete family life, contrasting with Ponta being a “good family man”[3]. These were not however the only personal attacks in the campaign: outgoing president Băsescu involved rather openly in supporting the candidacy of Udrea (PMP) and accused PM Ponta of being an undercover agent for the Romanian foreign intelligence services (SIE), an accusation that did not have the negative impact it was intended.

Three other issues are worth noting concerning the first round of the 2014 presidential elections: a first one concerns the fact that two women politicians (Macovei and Udrea) competed with a serious chance to become the third best qualified candidates in the presidential contest. In a sense both are connected to the outgoing president Băsescu and the center-right conservative PDL. President Băsescu seems to have chosen Udrea, former minister of regional development and tourism (2008-2009; 2009-2012), to continue his political legacy. Băsescu forced a split in the PDL and entrusted the newly formed PMP to be Udrea’s political vehicle. In turn, Macovei has created over the years an anti-corruption political profile during her time at the helm of the ministry of justice (2004-2007) that she has later cemented during her mandate as MEP (2009-2014). The fact that they competed for the highest position in Romanian politics and not merely symbolically, despite the fact that Romanian politics are characterized by a masculinized and misogynistic political culture, indicates that we witness a slight shift towards a more gender equal perspective about women as capable politicians on the Romanian mainstream political stage. The second issue pertains to the peculiarity of Macovei’s candidacy and her political campaign that lacked the support of a wide party infrastructure across the country and consequently relied exclusively on the help of dedicated volunteers and had a very strong presence in social media (particularly Facebook and Twitter). Eventually, Macovei came in the fifth place polling 4.44% of the votes, close behind Udrea who polled 5.2% of the votes, despite the fact that Udrea benefited from the substantial support of the PMP’s territorial infrastructure across the country (see Table 1 for detailed electoral results).

The third one refers to the problematic organization of the polling stations for the Romanians voting from abroad (the so called “diaspora vote”, which was organized in its own electoral bureau, in addition to the 47 electoral bureaus arranged at national level). Quite early during first round of the presidential elections it became apparent that the number, size and placing of voting stations abroad has been seriously underestimated. Consequently, very long queues had formed outside these voting stations, oftentimes stretching over several hundreds of meters. Unfortunately, the voting stations were closed at 21:00 local time across the various locations, although not all citizens queuing for hours on a row had the possibility to cast their vote, particularly in cities with significant Romanian expat communities across Europe, such as Paris, Rome, Turin, Madrid, London, Munich, and Stuttgart. Indeed, the 48th electoral bureau declared only a total of 161 054 votes from the various polling stations across the world. Various social media (Facebook, Twitter) were quickly flooded with recordings of these queues and protest manifestations were organized over the days to follow in the principal urban centers (in Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca, Timişoara, etc.) across the country in support of the diaspora. The limited voting stations for the Romanian diaspora was considered by many to be a purposeful decision on behalf of the PSD-led government to prevent the diaspora to vote, particularly having in mind that in the 2009 presidential elections the social-democratic candidate was narrowly defeated because of the diaspora vote that supported the center-right conservative candidate.


The first round of the presidential elections confirmed Ponta (40.44%) and respectively Iohannis (30.37%) as the two counter-candidates to continue in the run-offs. After intense negotiations, the two met in two televised debates that concluded with indecisive results. Preparing for the run-offs the two candidates adopted different electoral strategies. Ponta’s candidacy was officially endorsed by several previous presidential candidates, among which Popescu Tăriceanu, who was named by Ponta as the future prime minister should he win the presidency[4]. In addition, both populist radical right candidates, Diaconescu and Tudor, confirmed their support for Ponta’s candidacy encouraging their electorate to vote for him. The alliance with these radical political forces was described as a reenactment of the early 1990s Red Quadrilateral (patrulaterul roşu), a less dignifying period when the social-democrats allied themselves with the populist radical right to rule Romania[5]. In addition, the Romanian Orthodox Church was accused of getting involved in the elections in favor of Ponta, in return for the promise of substantial state financing[6]. In turn, Iohannis announced he would not search the endorsement of any of his previous counter-candidates in the presidential race, rather he appealed directly to the Romanian electorate to support his presidential bid[7]. Later on Macovei announced she endorses Iohannis’ candidacy[8], whilst Udrea and later on Kelemen chose not to endorse any of the candidates, leaving their supporters to opt for one or the other.

A contentious issue concerned the manner of addressing the challenges present in the 48th electoral bureau that collected the diaspora vote. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Titus Corlățean, presented his resignation at the pressure of citizens’ street protests and was replaced by former presidential candidate Meleșcanu, but despite strong criticism concerning the organizational shortcomings of the first round, and the repeated appeals of civil society and various political parties to open additional polling stations, the decision was to maintain the same number of polling stations abroad and instead increased the number of voting booths available at each polling station. However this measure was vehemently criticized for being insufficient and triggered a strong popular mobilization both abroad and in Romania, yet again with the help of social media, whereby Romanian citizens started queuing in front of the polling stations abroad even before these had opened, armed with toothbrushes and chanting to be allowed their democratic right to vote.

For the run-off on 16 November 2014, the electoral participation increased with approximately 10%, from a national average of 52.31% voting presence (with 51.64% in the cities and 53.21% in the rural areas) and 161 054 casting their vote in the 294 polling stations abroad in the first round, to a national average of 62.04% casting their vote (with 61.41% in the cities and 62.88% in the rural areas) and 378 811 voting in the 48th electoral bureau at the 294 polling stations abroad. However, not all Romanian citizens that queued for hours in a row outside the polling stations abroad managed to cast their vote, leading to several incidents and the intervention of local police forces that dispersed the people with tear gas in both Paris and Turin[9]. At the closing of the polling stations, the exit polls indicated a very close score, though it became apparent quite early during the night that the social-democratic candidate was losing ground. Later the same night PM Ponta conceded defeat to Iohannis who celebrated the victory praising Romanian citizens for being the heroes of the day for their “phenomenal vote”[10].

From the preliminary final data delivered by the Romanian Central Electoral Bureau (Biroul Electoral Central, BEC), Victor Ponta polled 45.49% of the votes (a total of 5 264 383 votes, compared to 3 836 093 votes received in the first round), whilst Klaus Iohannis polled 54.50% of the votes (a total of 6 288 769, compared to 2 881 406 votes in the first round). Some foreign media rushed to argue that Iohannis won because of the diaspora vote[11], in a manner similar to the victory registered by Băsescu in 2009 against his social-democratic counter-candidate. While it seems to be true that the vote in the diaspora has been overwhelmingly in favor of Iohannis (over 89%), the electoral battle was won in Romania: in several counties Iohannis polled over 65% of the votes (in Alba, Arad, Covasna, Cluj, Harghita, Mureş, Satu-Mare, Sibiu, and Timiş); and polled over 50% of the votes in counties generally considered to be social-democratic strongholds (in Constanţa, Iaşi, Tulcea, and Suceava).

In conclusion, it seems that the elections witnessed to citizens’ rejection of the old ethno-nationalist discourse and punishment of Ponta’s political arrogance and disconnection from the plight of the common citizens[12]. Another aspect worth noting is that, although Ponta was able to form his first cabinet in the aftermath of the 2012 citizens’ protests, the social-democrats did not pay sufficient attention to new forms of citizens’ mobilization with the help of social media (particularly Facebook and Twitter). At the same time there are several cautious voices that warn on the overly optimistic attitude connected to Iohannis as future president, noting that besides Meleșcanu’s resignation the PSD-led governing coalition does not appear inclined to assume responsibility for the problematic organization of the elections abroad or to give in to the increasingly louder appeals to Ponta to hand in his resignation. Despite the defeat of its candidate, these elections are an undeniable opportunity for the PSD, but also for the other parties across the political board, to address more seriously citizens’ concerns regarding corruption and a more transparent and accountable politics[13].

Table 1: The results of the 2014 Romanian presidential elections, ordered according to the results in the first round, with provisional final results for the run-offs[14]

Candidate Party/Alliance First round (%) Run-offs (%)
Victor Ponta PSD 40.44 45.49
Klaus Iohannis ACL (PNL + PDL) 30.37 54.50
Călin Popescu Tăriceanu Independent 5.36
Elena Udrea PMP 5.2
Monica Macovei Independent 4.44
Dan Diaconescu PP-DD 4.03
Corneliu Vadim Tudor PRM 3.68
Hunor Kelemen UDMR/RMDSZ 3.47
Teodor Meleșcanu Independent 1.09

Note: This blog entry has also been published, albeit in a slightly revised form, on Baltic Worlds section on Elections.
















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Friday, November 21st, 2014 Research No Comments

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[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.

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, December 12th, 2012 Research No Comments

Brace Yourselves for the Storm: the 2012 Parliamentary Elections in Romania under the Sign of Radical Right Populism

There is little doubt that the mainstream political scene in Romania is presently undergoing some dramatic convulsions. The current affairs have come to be compared by foreign and native political analysts alike, matter-of-factly, with the equally tumultuous period that Romanian witnessed during the early 1990s. Indeed, besides the ideological polarization specific to the eve of such important political confrontation as the Parliamentary elections (scheduled for December 9th 2012), the tone and manner of political discourse in Romania has witnessed a return to a level that many have hoped it was a thing of the past. In this context, these elections appear to be taking place under the sign of radical right populist discourse, which seems to come also from established political entities with a different ideological profile, not only the now consecrated radical right populist parties – and in here I refer to the Greater Romania Party (PRM/ Partidul România Mare) – and some newcomers – the previously discussed Popular Party–Dan Diaconescu (PP–DD/ Partidul Popular–Dan Diaconescu).

In this context, several political events are illustrative of the said political climate. These are, in approximately chronological order: first, Dan Diaconescu’s surprising participation in the (by now failed) privatization process that the largest petrochemical companies in Romania (namely Oltchim) and in Central and Eastern Europe had undergone this September. No matter how perplexing this might sound, but Dan Diaconescu (PP–DD) has participated in the Oltchim privatization as a private person and declared he is motivated by his desire to return such a national asset back to its rightful owners: ‘the Romanian people‘. Even more perplexing, Diaconescu has later been declared the winner of the privatization bid and were to assume control over the Oltchim shortly thereof. Diaconescu played his role of being the ‘Saviour on a white horse’ (as labelled in newspapers; in Romanian, aici) very well. Despite accusations that he did not have the financial resources to perfect the privatization (accusations that are yet to be proven in court), he eventually presented no less than 1,8 million EUR in cash (several sacks allegedly filled with money had been transported in front of the Ministry of Economy in Bucharest, which was widely discussed in media; in Romanian, aici) to pay for the privatization. In this context, in decidedly populist manner, Diaconescu claimed that the sacks of money he brought to the Ministry of Economy were in fact destined ‘to pay the salaries of Oltchim workers’ (which have not received their salaried rights for several months). The governing coalition landed in a very ungrateful situation: mismanaging a significant privatization process, and coming out humiliated in such a populist manner by Diaconescu. The event signalled that the Romanian Social Democrats (PSD/ Partidul Social Democrat) are going to encounter a serious competitor in the PP–DD in their appeal for the support of Romanian working class. The few traditionally social-democratic policies implemented since the cabinet Ponta assumed office earlier this year are apparently going to be counteracted by a reputable adversary, which is versed in using the populist rhetoric.

Second, the more recent announcement that George (Gigi) Becali – former leader of a minuscule radical right populist party, the New Generation Party–Christian Democrat (PNGCD/ Partidul Noua Generaţie–Creştin Democrat), and elected EMP on the PRM list – will be joining the ranks of the National Liberal Party (PNL/ Partidul Naţional Liberal). Becali was later confirmed as the PNL candidate for a deputy seat on the common list of the Social Liberal Union (USL/ Uniunea Social Liberală). The USL consisting of, as previously mentioned, the PM Victor Ponta’s  and their allies the Center Right Alliance, which reunites the  PNL and the Conservative Party (PC/ Partidul Conservator). The fact that Becali has joined the PNL and has immediately received an eligible place on behalf of the party on the USL list for the Lower Chamber (Camera Deputaților) has determined several commentators to wonder if this was the wisest political move the PNL could have done at present, just weeks from the Oltchim privatization in which it was heavily involved. Even more so, there are serious question marks on how compatible is the PNL’s self–declared subscription to liberalism with Becali’s blatantly xenophobic, homophobic and sexist misogynistic remarks (in Romanian, aici). Some others have seen in this just another case of a nouveau riche purchasing himself an eligible parliamentary seat on the lists of a respectable party, and wondered if the PNL would actually survive past this electoral cycle (in Romanian, aici).

Right of centre on the political spectrum, the conservative Democratic Liberal Party (PDL/ Partidul Democrat-Liberal) announced to have crafted a political alliance together with 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 is titled the Right (or Just) Romania Alliance (ARD/ Alianța România Dreaptă) (in Romanian, aici). Among the main figures of the new alliance, Adrian Papahagi, the Vice-president of the Christian–Democrat Foundation has succeed to draw the public outrage through a xenophobic, homophobic and sexist remark, which he posted on his Facebook profile. Expressing displeasure with the acting PM Ponta and his rather chaotic months of premiership (the plagiarism scandal, which is still pending a definitive decision, the forceful change of chiefs of institutions, and the failed attempt to depose the acting President Traian Basescu, to name just a few) Papahagi argued that: “After all, if we have reached that stage to have prime minister who is a plagiarist, and a putschist and Guevarist, why shouldn’t we soon have as President a Roma lesbian atheist.” It is highly troublesome how plagiarism, intrigue–making and ideological radicalism could easily lead, what according to Papahagi was the image of absolute Alterity – yet another Evil Other – manifest in Romanian politics: a Roma (thus not Romanian, but the most discriminated ethnic minority in Romania, thereby indicating the total reversal of the ‘normal’ hierarchy of values); lesbian (thus, not only less than man – read woman –  but also sexually deviant from the heteropatriachal norm); atheist (thus, not Romanian Christian Orthodox, deviating from the allegedly one and only true way of being Romanian, and a Romanian President at it). His statement was quickly sanctioned (both original quote and the reaction to it, in Romanian, aici).  Papahagi reacted swiftly by labelling his critics as “commissars”. The word reminds both of the feared Russian “commissars” of USSR, but also closer to our present days, of the epithet usually employed by the radical right populist leader Tudor (PRM) to describe one of his female adversaries (Zoe Petre) – perhaps unsurprisingly one of Papahagi’s critics is a woman (Alina Mungiu–Pippidi) (in Romanian, aici).

Finally, the PRM leader’s return to his previous anti-Semitic discourse, manifest this time through a reiterated denial of the Holocaust in Romania, and thereby lending support to a PSD member, incumbent Minister of Relations with the Parliament in the Ponta cabinet. Indeed, the PRM leader, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, did not fail to disappoint and delivered another anti-Semitic rant. Commenting on the issue of Holocaust in Romania, and the active participation of Romanian forces in the mass killing of Jews on Romanian soil, Tudor argued that no Romanians have ever been involved into the killings, rather they have been victims of the Holocaust themselves, together with the Jews and Romani (in Romanian, aici). Tudor defended in this context Dan Șova (PSD), now incumbent Minister of Relations with the Parliament in the Ponta cabinet. In March this year, Șova, then newly appointed PSD spokesperson, argued that “no Jew suffered on Romanian territory, thanks to marshal Antonescu”, causing widespread outrage – despite expressing regret that his statement has been misunderstood, Șova has refused to apologize (in English, here).

This leaves way to a lot of questions with regard to the coming Parliamentary elections: is the Romanian political mainstream taking the road of populist xenophobic extremism? Will there be any place for a debate about viable competing solutions for the country’s economic recovery between the left (i.e. the PSD, perhaps much watered down as a result of the USL electoral alliance) and the right (perhaps in this case it would be the PDL, and their ARD centre–right conservative alliance)? Is the Romanian political mainstream, in general, becoming permeated by radical right populism, with an increasing number of mainstream parties succumbing to xenophobia, homophobia, and submission to heteropatriarchism? Is it of any help to reflect how the main political forces in Romanian plan to address the serious democratic deficit the country is witnessing (Romania has one of the lowest percentage of women involved actively in mainstream politics from the whole EU)? Why would be of any importance if any woman active in Romanian politics, would be of Roma origin or from any other ethnic minority, or if she would be a lesbian, or a professed atheist?

Parliamentary Elections in Romania (1996-2008) (Click to enlarge) (Source: NSD-EED)

In an attempt to ease the understanding of the various abbreviations present within the present post, I attach herein a succinct presentation of the main political parties and their electoral results in the Romanian Parliamentary elections between 1996 and 2008.  For this purpose, I made use of the European Election Database (EED) that has been compiled by the Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD/ Norsk samfunnsvitenskapelig datatjeneste). I do not have any copyright claims on the attached graph, which has been generated on the NSD–EED website containing information about Romania.


The total number of seats increased from 332 in 2004 to 334 in 2008. Seats: 316 (elected) + 18 assigned to ethnic minorities other than the Hungarians = 334.
2000: PSD ran as PDSR as Social Democratic Pole Alliance with PSDR
2001: PDSR merged with PSDR into PSD.
1996: PDL ran as part of Social Democratic Union (USD)
2000: PDL ran as PD
2004: PDL as part of Justice and Truth Alliance (DA: PNL-PD)
2004: PNGCD ran as PNG
1996: PNL ran as part of Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR)
2004: PNL ran as part of Justice and Truth Alliance (DA: PNL-PD)

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Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 Research No Comments

What Maps Do Not Tell Us? Peering Past Victorious Shouts and Humbled Mumbles of Defeat

The recent local elections in Romania (10 June 2012) have reflected what several political commentators and researchers have warned about: the Social Liberal Union (USL/ Uniunea Social Liberală) consisting of the PM Victor Ponta’s Romanian Social Democrats (PSD/ Partidul Social Democrat) and their allies the Center Right Alliance, which reunites the National Liberals (PNL/ Partidul Naţional Liberal) and the Conservative Party (PC/ Partidul Conservator), made significant inroads into the formerly center-right liberal democrat (PDL/ Partidul Democrat-Liberal) ‘fiefs’, thereby capitalizing on the general dissatisfaction with the PDL’s mismanagement of the past years.

Without doubt, the PDL has registered a significant loss of the citizens’ support, polling only 15.10% for the presidents of the county councils; 15.44% for mayors; 15.29% for members of county councils (according to the Romanian Central Electoral Bureau (BEC), aici). The PDL was sanctioned, not necessarily for the austerity measures during the PDL-led cabinets Boc I (2008-2009), and especially Boc II (2009-2012), 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.

A lot of attention has been given to the apparent ‘colouring in red’ of most Romanian counties (with refrence to the USL’s electoral colours), though such a phrase is not the most accurate, as the PSD did not succeed to gain the majority of positions within the county councils, president of county council, or as city mayor. The USL has registered a very good election result indeed, 45.85% for the presidents of the county councils; 38.46% for mayors; 49.80% for members of county councils. However, as it was aptly pointed out, in the previous 2008 local elections, the constitutive parties of the said alliance have registered better results individually, totaling around 51% (the official results for 2008 available from the BEC, aici ).

Romania 2012 local election results (

Many commentators have rushed to assure – even ex ante – that the results of the elections are to be seen as ‘true’ measure of the coming Parliamentary elections in November 2012. With the recent change of the electoral law, the social-liberal USL is forecast to gather some 60 to 70% of the votes. Leaving aside the frenzy of counting in advance what could happen in a few months from now (especially in the very volatile context of European politics, with – among others – a very tough negotiations with regard to the future of the common currency and the overall economic (in)stability in the EU, the second round for the French Parliamentary elections yet to take place, and the new Greek Parliamentary elections scheduled later this week), there is another development, less visible from the country-wide maps of the election results.

Indeed, something does not become apparent

Romania 2012 local election results (

at a simple look over the various maps displaying the election results (see for instance the one provided by, aici ; Adevarul, aici; and even Evenimentul Zilei, aici). In the electoral competition between the USL, on the one side, and the PDL on the other, a third political force has made its presence noted on the Romanian political scene. More clearly, the third largest party is the newly founded People’s Party–Dan Diaconescu (PP-DD/ Partidul Poporului Dan Diaconescu) (the party’s website, mainly in Romanian, aici). The PP-DD polled 9.23% for the presidents of the county councils; 7.29% for mayors; 8.96% for members of county councils. Concomitantly, the consecrated radical right populist (RRP) parties in Romania, namely the Greater Romania Party (PRM/ Partidul România Mare) and the New Generation Party (PNG/ Partidul Noua Generaţie) seem to have had only a marginal presence in the preferences of the Romanian electorate (the PRM polled somewhere around an average of 2%, while the PNG only 0.20%), and might actually signal that popular dissatisfaction is most successfully channeled by the PP-DD.

The PP-DD is the product of the eponymous TV-channel owner Dan Diaconescu, who more or less single-handedly has founded the party and created its nation-wide network of branches. At a quick glance, judging from the 20-Points Proclamation the party has uploaded on its website (see link above, in Romanian), 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

Romania 2012 local election results (click to enlarge) (

previous governments found to have mismanaged the country; confiscation of illicit fortunes gained from pillaging the public goods, but also some surprising decidedly right wing, such as tax cuts, tax unification. 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.). In a sense, it reminds a lot of the PRM‘s main tenets at the beginning of 2000s as they were expressed by the party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor.

Even more so, as Romanian sociologist Mircea Kivu aptly noted in his analysis of the Romanian local elections and the emergence of new political entities contesting the elections (in Romania Libera, in Romanian, aici), the PP-DD candidates did not engage in any classical campaigning, opting for having their candidacy endorsed ‘on air’ at the TV station owned by Dan Diaconescu. This comes so strengthen my categorization of the PP-DD as an emerging radical right populist party, with a strong (male) leader that gives his formal ‘blessing’ to his acolytes on TV. In this light, if Corneliu Vadim Tudor had a very influential weekly magazine at his disposal to maneuver his captive electorate, Dan Diaconescu has taken the process to a new level, having his own TV station.

Looking at how the local electoral competition has tested the newly founded parties within the Hungarian-speaking community, it becomes apparent that the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR/Uniunea Democrată Maghiară din România, RMDSZ/Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség) has managed to fend off the negative effects of its being in government the past decade, and used the nationalist escalations sponsored by the Hungarian government to appeal for a return to rationality and moderation. As such, the UDMR/RMDSZ registered some loses, but succeeded to collect 4.95% for the presidents of the county councils; 3.90% for mayors; 5.52% for members of county councils.

In this context, the questions that arise pertain to the stability of the present political system in Romania, especially having in mind the wider developments across Europe. Is the USL alliance aware of the very delicate situation it is facing, with an interim government, already marred by serious scandals – it suffices to point at the no less than 3 ministers that succeeded in the Education portfolio in less than a month- , and the PDL apparently surprised by its own defeat? Does the PP-DD have the electoral appeal to play a similar function as the PRM in the 2000 Parliamentary elections, when it became the largest opposition party? Is the PP-DD the emerging radical right populist force in Romania? What would be the consequences of such a development, with the UDMR/RMDSZ apparently excluded from future government coalitions, and an ever more polarizing and nationalist Hungarian government? Are we witnessing yet another backlash against women in Romanian politics – only one woman has been elected mayor in one of the major cities in Romania, namely Lia Olguţa Vasilescu (PSD) in Craiova?

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Thursday, June 14th, 2012 Research No Comments

Whose Populists Are Better? When the Populists Are Becoming the One Another’s Others.

It is often said that the European Parliamentary (EP) elections from June 2009 witnessed a rise of the radical-right populist parties. These parties have performed, indeed, very well. For instance in Finland, the True Finns (PS/Perussuomalaiset) has a mandate, in Romania, they surprisingly got 3, after Greater Romania Party (PRM/Partidul Romania Mare) surprisingly co-opted PNG‘s leader on their lists for the EP, and in Bulgaria the National Union Attack (Ataka) received 2 mandates. Not to mention that in the Netherlands the Party for Freedom (PVV/Partij voor de Vrijeheid) won 4 .

So far all these newly elected MEPs are crowding the ranks of the Non-Attached Members (NI/Non-Inscrits), with rather few options or ideas for building up their own party alliance within EP, which would ensure visibility and access to European financing. But things appear to be more complicated, and the fate of the now-deceased Identity Tradition, Sovereignty (ITS), and of the Independence/Democracy Group (IND/DEM) and Union of  Europe of Nation (UEN) clouds the future of any possible alliance of the radical right populists in the EP.

The aforementioned “alphabet soup” of various combinations of abbreviations and short-writings may be succeeded by the nascent Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD), reuniting Finnish populists (PS), with Italian Northern League (LN/Lega Nord), and Danish People’s Party (DP/Dansk Folkeparti). The Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) seems to be negotiating with the new alliance, though it is not very clear if this would be successfully concluded or not.

Worth mentioning, while looking at the NI, the non-attached parties, is the difficulty of the radical right populist parties from this category  to position themselves according to their party agenda, and at the same time consolidate a functional alliance in EP.

One such example is the interview given by Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch PVV to Euronews channel (the whole interview may be viewed here). While most of the interview is focusing on what Wilders calls the danger Europe faces to giving in to Muslims pursuing to enforce Sharia on the continent, the title underlines the existing tensions between the “old” EU (The Netherlands are among the founding members) and the “newly arrived” from the last round of enlargement, Romania and Bulgaria. According to Wilders “the Dutch people think that Europe is large enough”, especially with regard to the hypothetical EU accession of Turkey and Ukraine. Playing the card of the menacing Other, especially the Muslim Other, is part of his usual discourse. The mention of  cohorts of fanatical Muslims that corner ever-appeasing European-wide political establishment into granting Sharia legal standing within EU is not something uncommon in his speeches and interviews.

But then it appears that not even the EU latecomers Bulgaria and Romania are to be spared because “those countries were not ready at all, were very unready and very corrupt as well.”  Suddenly the focus from the possible threat coming from a so distinctive Other (as the European Muslim) moves to the eastern borders of the EU, eying the newest EU-members. In this case the evil Other is no longer that easily perceived, and comes with an air of Balkanism, and suspicions of bribe and unruliness. Yet again fantasies of purity and of social welfare are interestingly mixed to portray  an Other that is rather a peripheral presence, somewhere in an indistinct, far away and backward East, but positing the treat of always coming among the People, and possibly corrupting them. Even among the newly elected MEPs, one of PRM‘s representatives, George Becali, was put under a travel ban by Romanian judges under the suspicion of corruption.

In this context, one cannot but to wonder where are the radical right populists of Bulgaria and Romania in this whole conspiracy of the Other? Doing the maths, 2 MEPs from Ataka and 3 from PRM, may be just as good, and some may dare say as European as PVV‘s 4.  What is then what divides them, and will they be able go past treating themselves as one another’s Others? Will radical right populists in EU manage to look past their obsessions of purity and settle for the compromises of daily politics?

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Tuesday, July 7th, 2009 Research 1 Comment

Investigating Radical Right Populist Discourses: Conceptual Metaphors.

Lately, I have been working on a paper titled ‘Conceptual Metaphors at Work in Radical Right Populist Discourses: Romania Is a Family and It Needs a Strict Father.’ My intent was to flesh out how certain metaphors were consistently employed by the two presidential hopefuls from the Romanian radical right populist parties in their 2004 televised final confrontation. The two were Vadim Tudor of the Greater Romania Party (PRM/Partidul Romania Mare) and George Becali of the New Generation Party (PNG-CD/Partidul Noua Generatie). The conceptual metaphor of the STRICT FATHER (i.e. the power to take care of the family members in need; the Messianic ability to read and interpret holly texts; the capacity of deciding who belongs to the family and who is excluded; the commitment to enforcing the set rules; and the ability to punish wrong doers, and bring justice to the defenseless) made direct reference to that of the NATION IS A FAMILY conceptual metaphor. The way these metaphors were used underlined a deeply heteropatriarchal structuring at work in the radical right populism in Romania. The discourses were obsessively structured around male figures, and their possible male contenders; women were almost invisible, and when their existence was acknowledged, they were presented merely as some subordinated beings. From this point of view, I think that a closer look from a feminist perspective at how such metaphors structure the reality these parties put forward and want to make people take as given is a worth doing enterprise.

I will present it within the workshop titled ‘From postcommunism and transitology to non-teleological change. Present and future research on Eastern and Central Europe.’ organized by Associate Professor Ann-Cathrine Jungar, research leader at CBEES, Södertörn University College, Stockholm.

The workshop is arranged by the CBEES (Center for Baltic and East European Studies) theme ‘Society and the Political’, and it aims at ‘at bringing together junior and senior scholars in the social sciences and humanities (political science, sociology, economics, ethnology and history) doing research on the political, economic and social developments in Eastern and Central Europe.  The workshop is divided into thematic slots, which are introduced by senior scholars with experience in the specific research area and in which the participants are invited to present their ongoing research. A special session is devoted to issues of fieldwork in the area.’ (quoted from a more extensive workshop description; for more details, please read here).

I am very curious about the feedback I will get from the other researchers on Eastern Europe, especially since mine is very specific a reserch topic and it is undertaken from a consciously chosen gender sensitive perspective. In general populists managed to present masculinity as the norm, and I wonder if this would be accepted as such or discussed critically. I think it will be a very interesting workshop.

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Thursday, June 4th, 2009 Research No Comments

The 2009 European Parliamentary Elections: The Populist Dilemma?

The coming EU elections have very interesting effects on the radical right populists across the Union. From the corner that interests me the most I can definitely say that these elections would be some very interesting events.

For instance in Finland, the leader of the populist True Finns (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna), Timo Soini suddenly decided to take upon himself the task of getting the party into the European Parliament (EP). However odd this may sound, but he declared he had changed his mind, in the sense that he turned from a staunchly anti-EU party leader of previous EU elections into the main candidate of the PS alliance with the Finnish Christian Democrats (KD/ Kristillisdemokraatit/ Kristdemokraterna). This came to calm down suspicions that the two parties will support the candidacy of a controversial independent politician that was elected into the capital’s city council with the support of PS. He was later on accused of racism and discriminatory remarks.

So now party leader Soini has to convince his faithful that his party has any clear agenda once sent to Brussels. But what he is allegedly convinced of is that he would manage to bring to life an EU alliance of like-minded parties.  One may actually start wondering how successful would he be, having in mind that the last such enterprise, the now defunct Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty (ITS) EP political alliance, did not manage to live more than a year, a result of the inherent clashed between parties with an agenda defined by their strong suspicion of the Other. How would Soini manage to convince all those populist EMPs and their national leaders that in fact they are not each other’s Evil Other, but in fact more than circumstantial allies? Le Pen was recently bared from symbolically opening the coming EP session, so an educated guess is that any such suggestions may go well. But how persuasive can be a Finnish MP, future EMP, with no experience of the European dealings? Does the announced cooperation with the future to be trans-European EU-skeptical Libertas alliance (there is a lot of irony in being an anti-EU, and yet pan- European grouping, isn’t it?) hold any chances for successful political leverage at EU level?

Or will he attempt to join the European People’s Party and European Democrats (EPP-ED), the biggest alliance of parties within the EP, based on his electoral alliance with the aforesaid KD? But how effective will this be, having in mind PS’s record as a party at least suspicious, if not outright against anything that may be even hinted at as not being Finnish? Soini has always appeared to tone down the sometimes radical affirmations of his subordinates, so this may play in his advantage, but how much can one do to improve PS’s reputation as an isolationist, and even racist party? Well, these are just a few of the question that come to mind once reading about Soini’s EU turn.

Looking at Romanian politics, it is going to be a very unusual election period. The Greater Romania Party (PRM/ Partidul Romania Mare) has decided, or more rightfully said, its leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor decided that the party’s EU election list will be opened by him and another controversial political figure, George Becali. Becali was for a while leader of another populist party, the New Generation Party (PNG) but this seems to have become a thing of the past.

As such, the two former rivals, Tudor  and Becali appeared on the party’s electoral posters reading: “Two Christians and patriots will purge the country from crooks” (“Doi crestini si patrioti vor scapa tara de hoti!”). What the two apparently have in common is their dedication for the church. This is intended to heal the rift between the two after several years of public confrontations that ended up in personal remarks not at all elegant, to put it mildly. It is to be seen how well the two temperamental leaders will put aside their past conflicts and march towards a EMP position.

So, what could such a churchly dedication of the two do in the EP is not as obvious as the party leaders may think. PRM has already a certain tradition of allying itself with the French populists led by Le Pen (they were actually instrumental in the constitution of the aforesaid Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty (ITS) political group). But they are also those responsible, at least partly of its demise. To complicate matters further, PRM did not manage to convince Romanian voters of its ability to represent them at European level last time. It is to be seen if two religious figures, or at least declaratory religious, would manage to get the party the desired seats in the EP.

On a closer look, it is not very clear what PRM has to offer this time around either. Romania has recently been criticized by the ineffectiveness of the judicial system and there are rumors that the country may have a similar fate as neighboring Bulgaria and see its EU funds frozen. How could the two populist leaders demise these dangers from their possible EMP seats? There is no easily distinguishable answer to these questions. The only sure thing is a discourse focused on, at least symbolically, punishing the corrupted elites. But here is a serious problem PRM faces, how to balance a discourse that promises impartial and harsh justice with a presence in the EP that is the epitome of compromise and long negotiations. What is almost certain, however, is that if they manage to get in, they will not be alone as the anti- sentiments across EU are on the rise. And for that is enough to look at another neighbor, Hungary, and the recent backlash against the Roma this country witnessed.

Swinging back to the north of EU, what is happening in Sweden? Well, not much really. The main parties appear to be more preoccupied with rowing over internal politics, even when it comes to televised public debates about the future of EU. Having in mind that the country will be undertaking the presidency of the EU council the coming July this does not look too promising. But even Sweden may appear EU-friendly when compared witht the Czech performance so far.

Returning to populists, the Sweden Democrats (SD/Sverigedemokraterna) do not fare much better than in previous opinion pools. SD has been ostracized to the peripheries of Swedish politics from early on, so the party still struggles to gain national representation; it is however quite strongly represented in the southern parts of Sweden. Even if they could have tried to ride the same populist, panic driven agenda as elsewhere, there is another forseable winner in the confrontation. SD was hoovering around the parliamentary threshold for a while but it is unlikely it will surpass the popularity of the Pirate Party (Piratpartiet).

Theirs is a different type of populism, concerned, mainly, with the issues of copyright and patents and privacy writ large. And if it is to take into account the party membership numbers (which exceed to date those of the second largest governing party, the Center Party/ C/ Centerpartiet), and their strong support among the young voters, the Pirate Party seems to be on its way to register its first electoral success. But then again, labeling the Pirate Party as populist does not do much justice for its cause. It is more a single cause party, and it is to be seen, if it will enlarge its political agenda with other issues as well. Of crucial importance, in case of a victory is if the party will manage to survive its own political success and how much of the initial agenda will be preserved in the daily compromise politics at EP level.

Three countries, three different populist trajectories. All competing for votes for a suddenly much wanted EMP position. Here rests the populist dilema, how much of the anti- attitude can a party preserve once joining the place where everything is ground to small, almost imperceptible nuances of language in official communiques?

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Tuesday, May 19th, 2009 Research No Comments

2008: the final year of radical right populism in Romania?

As a result of the November 30 parliamentary elections in Romania, the two major radical right populist parties have disappeared from the main political stage. The newly introduced electoral system, that of mixed member proportional representation (MMP), produced some interesting results.

As such, the Greater Romania Party (PRM) that since 1991 has represented the radical right pole in Romanian politics, failed to attain the 4% threshold for any of the chambers of the Romanian Parliament. With less than half a million votes, PRM managed to poll 3.15% for the lower Chamber of Deputies, and 3.57% for the Senate. This practically interrupted Vadim Tudor’s, PRM‘s unquestioned leader, presence in the Romanian legislative fora.

The other populist contender, the New Generation Party (PNG-CD), had an even poorer performance. With only 2.27% of the votes for the Chamber of Deputies, and 2.53% for the Senate, the party was confined to a presence at local level ( where it received some 1203 seats in the local councils, of 37,915 nation-wide). As a consequence of these results, the party announced that it entered a period of “preservation” (link in Romanian). George Becali, the colorful leader of PNG, failed to become a Romanian version of Silvio Berlusconi. Even though he is the main shareholder of the Steaua football club, a name in Romanian football, he did not manage to use this successfully in politics.

But does this mean that radical right populism is a thing of the past in Romanian politics? Or is this just a sign that radical attitudes have permeated the political mainstream? Populism has been long assigned to political center stage in Eastern Europe, and Romania is no exception. However, the presence of the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR/RMDSZ) in the governing coalitions in the 1996/2000, 2000/2004, and 2004/2008 mandates, ensured that the radical right with its xenophobic manifestations was only peripheral. But the new grand coalition, that gathers together the Romanian Social Democrats (PSD) and the Liberal Democrats (PLD) could not accommodate the presence of UDMR/RMDSZ in the governing architecture. Surprisingly enough, it was PSD the party that officially requested their expulsion from the partition of ministerial portfolios. Romanian political analysts have generally labeled this as the party’s “hunger for the public money”, and unwillingness “to divide the governmental cake”.

But what if this is a disguised return to xenophobic populism? After all, PSD governed with PRM and other two xenophobic parties in the 1994/1996 mandate. 2009 is definitely going to be a very interesting year on the Romanian political scene.

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Tuesday, December 30th, 2008 Research No Comments