UDMR

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

A TURBULENT SPRING: THE 2014 EUROPEAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS

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.

THE FIRST ROUND OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS:

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 PRESIDENTIAL RUN-OFFS

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.

Footnotes:


[1] http://www.gandul.info/politica/vrednic-este-liviu-dragnea-a-primit-ordinul-sfintii-martiri-brancoveni-din-partea-patriarhului-daniel-13378790

[2] http://www.evz.ro/vezi-cum-comenteaza-iohannis-atacurile-legate-de-religia-sa.html

[3] http://www.gandul.info/stiri/gabriela-firea-atac-murdar-la-klaus-iohannis-a-fi-familist-inseamna-si-sa-ai-copii-cand-a-spus-ca-investeste-in-imobiliare-nu-in-copii-a-spus-din-greseala-ce-gandea-13372864

[4] http://www.cotidianul.ro/ponta-e-posibil-sa-i-propun-lui-tariceanu-postul-de-premier-250476/

[5] http://www.romanialibera.ro/politica/politica-alegeri-prezidentiale/noul-patrulater-ro%C5%9Eu—psd–unpr–pc–prm-356014?c=q2561

[6] http://www.gandul.info/stiri/alianta-bor-psd-operatiunea-bani-si-imobile-pentru-biserica-contra-voturi-pro-ponta-13532077

[7] http://www.revista22.ro/klaus-iohannis-e-un-lucru-care-trebuie-sa-ne-dea-de-gandit-daca-alianta-de-guvernare-reface-patrulaterul-rosu-victor-ponta-e-disperat-si-minte-49651.html

[8] http://www.romaniatv.net/alegeri-prezidentiale-2014-monica-macovei-il-sprijina-pe-klaus-iohannis-in-turul-ii-al-prezidentialelor_181857.html

[9] http://adevarul.ro/news/politica/eu-diaspora-n-a-vrut-voteze-1_5469c6790d133766a8f54b7f/index.html; http://www.digi24.ro/Stiri/Digi24/Special/COTROCENI+2014/VOT+DIASPORA+Cozi+infernale+si+gaze+lacrimogene; http://www.mondonews.ro/romanii-din-paris-si-torino-au-fost-dispersati-cu-gaze-lacrimogene-de-politisti/

[10] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/16/romania-klaus-iohannis-president

[11] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30076716

[12] http://adevarul.ro/news/politica/bunerangul-l-a-doborat-victor-ponta-1_5469f4be0d133766a8f6db34/index.html; http://adevarul.ro/news/politica/de-pierdut-psd-sindromul-benjamin-button-psd-ului-1_5469e26c0d133766a8f631ba/index.html; http://www.hotnews.ro/stiri-opinii-18589433-castigat-romania-prin-alegerea-lui-klaus-iohannis.htm

[13] http://adevarul.ro/locale/cluj-napoca/mesaj-dur-organizatorul-protestului-cluj-acl-nu-imbuibatilor-fanfaronilor-victoria-nu-e-voastra-1_546b43bc0d133766a800ffd4/index.html

[14] http://www.bec2014.ro/rezultate/

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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].

POLITICAL LANDSCAPE IN MOTION: THE LIMITLESS OPPORTUNITIES OF COMBINING PARTIES

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].

THE DEBATE THAT NEVER WAS: POLITICAL NONCOMBAT AND CAMPAIGNING THROUGH SCANDALS

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].

THE 300 THAT TURNED INTO OVER 550

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

UNPR
PNL
PC
ARD PDL 16.50 56PDL: 52 MPs

FC: 3 MPs

PNT-CD: 1 MPs

16.70 24PDL: 52 MPs

FC: 1 MPs

PNT-CD: 1 MPs

FC
PNT-CD
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] http://adevarul.ro/news/politica/liviu-dragnea-ard-vor-80-parlamentari-plus-1_50c5be78596d720091dffbe6/index.html#, accessed on 2012-12-11.

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

[iii] http://www.becparlamentare2008.ro/statis/prez_ora22.pdf, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[iv] http://www.becparlamentare2012.ro/A-DOCUMENTE/Prezenta%20la%20vot/prezenta%20ora%2021.pdf, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[v] http://www.ziare.com/social/romani/de-ce-le-e-frica-romanilor-si-in-cine-au-cea-mai-multa-incredere-studiu-ires-1157753, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[vi] http://www.beclocale2012.ro/DOCUMENTE%20BEC/REZULTATE%20FINALE/PDF/Statistici/Situatie_vve_part.pdf, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[vii] http://www.beclocale2008.ro/documm/Voturi%20pe%20Partide/votpart.pdf, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[viii] http://www.mediafax.ro/politic/eugen-nicolicea-unpr-si-psd-au-incheiat-alianta-de-centru-stanga-acs-9858275, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[ix] http://www.beclocale2012.ro/DOCUMENTE%20BEC/REZULTATE%20FINALE/PDF/Statistici/Situatie_vve_part.pdf, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[x] http://www.nineoclock.ro/right-romania-alliance-officially-launched/, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xi] http://www.adevarul.ro/actualitate/politica/Sondaj_IMAS-_USL-prima_crestere_dupa_scandalul_suspendarii_0_802719989.html, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xii] http://www.beclocale2012.ro/DOCUMENTE%20BEC/REZULTATE%20FINALE/PDF/Statistici/Situatie_vve_part.pdf, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xiii] http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/22/romania-politics-idUSL5E8MD5G320121122, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xiv] www.partidul.poporului.ro, 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] http://www.beclocale2012.ro/DOCUMENTE%20BEC/REZULTATE%20FINALE/PDF/Statistici/Situatie_vve_part.pdf, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xvii] http://www.economist.com/blogs/easternapproaches/2012/10/romanian-politics?zid=307&ah=5e80419d1bc9821ebe173f4f0f060a07, 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. http://adevarul.ro/news/politica/rezultate-alegeri-parlamentare-2012–planurile-traian-basescu-1_50c51e86596d720091dc7134/index.html, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xix] http://www.activewatch.ro/ro/buna-guvernare/evenimente-si-activitati/preliminar-in-campania-electorala-mesaje-vagi-fara-relevanta-pentru-alegerile-parlamentare/, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xx] http://www.becparlamentare2012.ro/A-DOCUMENTE/Rezultate%20partiale/Rezultate%20provizorii.pdf, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xxi] http://jurnalul.ro/stire-alegeri-2009/referendumul-validat-prezenta-de-50-16-528153.html, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xxii] http://www.gandul.info/puterea-gandului/noi-mai-putini-ei-mai-multi-10383452, accessed on 2012-12-11.

[xxiii] http://adevarul.ro/news/politica/cei-118nepoftiti-parlamentul-romaniei-vedetele-politice-intrat-legislativ-mandate-suplimentare-1_50c8e634596d720091f30899/index.html#, accessed on 2012-12-12.

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Wednesday, December 12th, 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 (www.Infopolitic.ro)

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 (www.adevarul.ro)

at a simple look over the various maps displaying the election results (see for instance the one provided by Infopolitic.ro, 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) (www.evz.ro)

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