Romania goes to the polls on December 11 in a parliamentary election: the official campaigning period began last week. As such, for anyone new to the delights of Romanian politics, we have decided to put together a guide to the various parties who are fielding candidates in the election, as well as to try and explain how the voting system works and what options we might have post-election.
Like it or not, the PSD remains the biggest and strongest force in Romanian politics. Successor party of the Romanian Communists (PCR), the PSD is nominally centre-left but has in recent years increasingly veered towards the far-right: much of its rhetoric is vehemently nationalist. It is currently the largest party in parliament. A byword for corruption, it draws its support from the poorest and least-educated members of Romanian society, particularly the elderly in the south and east of the country. It is also popular with civil servants and bureaucrats. The PSD has very little support in cosmopolitan, western-looking Transylvania. It is worth noting that the party is led by Liviu Dragnea, currently serving a suspended prison sentence for vote rigging. Disgraced former prime minister Victor Ponta tops the party’s list in Gorj county.
The PNL has for more than two decades been the great white hope of Romanian politics. Seen as being less corrupt and more business-friendly than the PSD the party has, however, time and again failed to live up to its billing. It fused with the non-Basescu wing of the PDL in 2014 and supported Klaus Iohannis during that year’s presidential election. For a time, having distanced itself from the PSD (with whom it formed the USL for a number of years) it at that stage looked poised to replace the PSD as the country’s most important party. However, it has recently been poorly led (by Alina Gorghiu) and has failed to take advantage of the many open goals it has been presented by the PSD. It has also failed to be a genuine opposition party, often helping to wave populist PSD proposals through parliament. The PNL backs current prime minister Dacian Ciolos to continue in his current job after the election.
A party set up by disaffected members of the PNL who later joined forces with Dan Voiculescu’s PC, ALDE is led by a former PNL prime minister, Calin Popescu Tariceanu. It is allied to the PSD, has few actual principles or policies of its own, and little to offer beyond Tariceanu himself (who does have something of a personal following) and being a kind of PSD that isn’t actually the PSD. While in the local elections its candidates won a decent 6.4 per cent share of the vote, it has since been beset by scandal involving corrupt members and is currently in freefall. It will take around five per cent of the vote in December, if that.
The PMP (Peoples’ Movement Party) is the rump of the old PDL, once the country’s largest party. Its members include former President Traian Basescu, who tops its Bucharest candidate list for the senate. In June’s local elections however it took just 4.3 per cent of the vote and its presence in parliament – Basescu or not – should not be taken for granted. Its recent merger with the now defunct UNPR (erstwhile partner of the PSD) has also eroded into its popularity.
The Union to Save Romania is the national offshoot of the Union to Save Bucharest which did surprisingly well in June’s local elections. Its leader is Nicusor Dan. The USR has absorbed a number of like-minded parties across Romania and looks set to take a fair percentage of the vote: it will have no trouble crossing the parliamentary threshold. Like the PNL, the USR wants Dacian Ciolos to continue as prime minister. It is our opinion however that the USR will have problems keeping its various factions together in the long term. The party has two distinct wings: a centre-left, ecologist, Green Party-like core based around the original Salvati Bucuresti NGO (led by Dan) and a more traditionally right-wing, pro-business party led by Clotilde Armand. As things stand, the party is united by the common goals of continuing the fight against corruption and creating a new type of transparent government. But for how long?
The UDMR supports the interests of Romania’s large (two million-plus) Hungarian minority, and has been a member of (almost) every Romanian government since 1996. Led by Kelemen Hunor it currently has 18 seats in parliament, although its hegemony over Romania’s Hungarian community is not as absolute as it once was. Nevertheless, it should make the parliamentary threshold.
Led by former PSD senator Bogdan Diaconu, PRU has become something of a dumping ground for PSD members in trouble with the law. Staunchly nationalist the party is perhaps best known for setting up a short-lived paramilitary wing earlier this year known as the ‘Vlad Tepes Patrol.’ In the local elections in June PRU attracted fewer than one per cent of the vote. Diaconu, who ran for mayor of Bucharest, did slightly better, getting 1.45 per cent of the vote.
In a crowded field, the Alianta Noastra Romania is by some distance the most lunatic of all the country’s fringe political parties. Led by former Securitate informer Marian Munteanu and packed with an unholy coalition of religious extremists and pro-Russians, the two main pillars of the ANR’s platform are fierce nationalism and militarism. It wants to reintroduce military slavery in the form of obligatory conscription: ‘The army should be the primary force in the development of Romanian men’ one of its candidates stated last week. It opposes foreign capital and would pursue a massive campaign of nationalisation. It would give special privileges to the Romanian Orthodox Church which would have a direct say in running the country. Fortunately, support for the ANR is weak: we do not see it getting much above two per cent of the vote and do not think it will send any MPs to parliament.
The Hows & Whys
Romanians will elect 332 MPs and 137 senators to the two houses of parliament. This represents a reduction of over 10 per cent in personnel when compared with the current parliament, but the number of legislators remains far too high given the country’s population. Ideally, Romania should have a unicameral parliament of no more than 300 elected representatives. Indeed, in 2009 Romanians voted for precisely this in a referendum: a referendum ignored ever since by all parties.
The voting system being used is proportional representation, and voters will cast ballots for county-based party lists, not individual candidates. The system – which of course has its merits and which is a vast improvement on the hodgepodge system used last time – does however mean that a number of tainted, compromised politicians who are placed high on their party’s lists will be elected even though they are unpopular and have no personal mandate. What’s more, parties need to take more than five per cent of the nationwide vote in order to enter parliament. More than a couple of those we describe above will not make the cut. 18 seats in parliament are reserved for what are known as the national minorities. These MPs tend to vote with whoever makes up the governing majority.
Forming a Government
If any party – or alliance of parties – takes more than fifty per cent of the seats in parliament then it will be able to propose a prime minister. It is worth noting however that Iohannis – upon whose shoulders the formal task of naming a prime minister falls – has stated on more than one occasion that he will not name a prime minister who has been convicted of (or is under investigation for) corruption. This rules out both Liviu Dragnea and Victor Ponta. Whether Iohannis would have the balls to refuse to name either as prime minister in the case of an overwhelming PSD/ALDE majority remains to be seen. We should hope it doesn’t come to that.
The most likely outcome of the election is as follows:
The PSD will be the largest party, with around 40 per cent of the vote. Its ally ALDE, which has had a poor autumn, may struggle to make the five per cent threshold.
This would leave the PSD well short of being able to form a government. The UDMR, usually ready to jump into bed with any party ready to give it a couple of cabinet posts, recently broke off relations with the PSD and as things stand would not be prepared to back a PSD-led government. (What’s more, the UDMR, like ALDE, is facing a nail-biting wait on election night to see if it makes the parliamentary threshold).
The only other parties who might be prepared to work with the PSD – PRU and ANR – are highly unlikely to get more than a couple of per cent of the vote and will in all probability not have any MPs. This will leave the PSD high and dry despite being (by far) the largest party.
And yet things look little better for the PNL, likely to be the second largest party.
If – and it’s a big if – the PNL gets around 28 per cent, it would need to get every other party (bar the PSD) on board in order to form a government. There is no guarantee they will be able to do this. The USR has, like the PNL, nominated the incumbent Dacian Ciolos as its prime minister of choice and would likely sign up to a PNL-led administration. And yet the USR is not likely to take more than 10-15 per cent of the vote. This means that the PMP and UDMR would almost certainly have to be drafted in. Again, there is no guarantee they will be willing to do so, particularly the PMP. And that’s if the PMP makes it to parliament.
We therefore need to prepare for a stalemate, or – perhaps – a grand PSD-PNL coalition sans Ciolos.
There is also another possibility to consider: that just three parties enter parliament. The PSD, PNL and USR. Plus the minorities.
In this case, vacant seats (and it could be as many as 20 per cent of seats) are redistributed according to the number of votes cast at national level. This could mean that the PSD ends up with over 50 per cent of seats despite not getting 50 per cent of the vote. It could also mean (although it is far less likely ) that the PNL and USR will have a combined majority of seats.
As always, turnout will be crucial. As always, the lower the turnout the better the PSD will do. Unusually, turnout in Romania for parliamentary elections is traditionally lower than for local elections. Turnout for June’s local elections was just over 48 per cent. This does not bode well for December. In 2008’s parliamentary election the turnout was just 39 per cent, in 2012 it was only slightly better at 41.7 per cent: if either percentage is repeated, expect a PSD majority.
In brief, the equation is simple: either those Romanians opposed to the PSD turn up and vote or Romania will have a corrupt prime minister by the end of the year. Given how both Bulgaria and Moldova this weekend elected pro-Russian candidates as president, that is absolutely not what the country needs.