Actually, unless you read these pages or follow the local news, chances are you don’t.
Strict new rules have made the current campaign for Romania’s local elections – scheduled for June 5th – the most visually muted in history. With under three weeks to go until polling day, the cities, towns and villages of Romania would usually by this stage be awash with election posters, banners and other political paraphernalia. Think back to the last election held in these parts, the presidential election of November 2014. The faces of Victor Ponta (and, to a lesser extent, eventual winner Klaus Iohannis) stared down at us from just about every possible vantage point. This time, thanks to the new rules, almost nothing. (Only election posters no bigger than A3 can be displayed, and then only on specially designated ‘election notice boards,’ such as the one above, in an impossible location just south of Piata Unirii. Most of the major parties appear not to have bothered).
Is this a good thing?
We have our doubts.
The new rules were ostensibly introduced to level the electoral playing field by preventing the larger political parties – with their big budgets – from simply buying up all available outdoor advertising space at the expense of less well-off rivals. The law outlaws any gifts of any kind, including the candidate or party-branded pens, balloons and carrier bags that have become indicative of Romanian elections. Public meetings with candidates must take place only in certain locations and rallies, marches and such like are strictly off-limits.
In theory, this is at first glance all well and good and to the benefit of the smaller parties and independent candidates. And yet we smell a large rat.
Like the electoral system itself (first-past-the-post), which will quite possibly see mayors elected with less than 30 per cent of the vote, the campaign rules are heavily weighted in favour of incumbent mayors: their names and faces are well-known, those of their challengers much less so. What’s more, mayors currently in office can circumvent the ban on gifts by handing out ‘social assistance’ to the pensioners happy to sell their votes for a litre of cooking oil and a bag of self-raising flour. They can also sidestep rules on organising large gatherings by holding ‘council-sponsored’ events. Expect Children’s Day celebrations on June 1st to carry more than a whiff of discreet political branding this year.
Then there is the question of turnout.
Low turnout favours incumbents: PSD incumbents in particular. Such a low-key campaign – with no visible sign that an election is even going on – will hardly serve to get out the vote.