Romania votes tomorrow in a parliamentary election that will decide if the country continues to move forward, or if it will slip into reverse and elect a PSD-led government whose only interest is to end, once and for all, the fight against corruption. Polling stations open at 07:00 and close at 21:00. We will be tweeting throughout the day if you follow us (@bucharestlife is the handle if you do not).
We published a guide to the main parties a couple of weeks ago: you can read that here.
Meantime, here are a few things to look out for…
1. Romania’s most honest election ever
To prevent multiple voting, turnout will be counted in real-time: special tablets will scan personal ID numbers (CNPs) and instantly pass the information directly to the Central Electoral Office (BEC). We do not, however, know if the general public (or even journalists) will be able to follow the real-time turnout figures or if we will have to rely, as before, on BEC’s spokesperson providing irregular updates.
The counting process in every polling station in the country will be recorded on video. Once the polls have closed at 21:00, returning officers will have to record the entire counting process until the moment the total number of votes for each party has been declared and transmitted to BEC. The recordings will be made on the same tablets used to scan CNPs. Some of these tablets will fail, for one reason or another, to record the count, be it a power cut or wanton neglect on the part of electoral staff. However, it is highly unlikely that every tablet in Teleorman county will suddenly stop working. There will be some fraud – it can’t be cut out completely – but there should be far less than before. This is not good for the PSD.
There are also likely to be few problems abroad, which should see Romanian migrants voting in record numbers. There are more polling stations than ever before, and while there will be queues, the scenes we witnessed in 2014, when the PSD and its agents in the Foreign Ministry deliberately tried to prevent Romanians from voting, will not be repeated. A few thousand Romanian migrants will also, for the first time, be voting by post.
However, we should add that in an effort to make the voting process as correct as possible, a few people are going to miss out, particularly students. As Romanians are now only allowed to vote in their county of domicile (to prevent electoral tourism: the PSD had a habit of busing voters up and down the country to vote a number of times in different counties), anyone who will not be in their home county will not be able to vote.
In an attempt to help students vote, the government is offering them free rail transport all weekend so that they can travel home to cast ballots. It remains to be seen how many will. Students (by definition liberal, well-educated and open-minded) do not tend to vote PSD.
2. Decent weather
The forecast is for sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures throughout much of Romania, particularly in the south. Good weather always favours those political parties who do not control town and village halls and who cannot rely on local mayors to whip up support and ensure that voters are mobilised. Casual and undecided voters are far more likely to vote if the weather is good: it is, after all, from where we get the phrase ‘fair weather supporters.’ The USR is likely to be the biggest beneficiary of the sunshine.
3. Wildly inaccurate exit-polls
The last opinion poll before the election was this wilfully misleading set of numbers released on Thursday which gave the PSD 44 per cent of the vote. Given that it was carried out by IRES (close to Vasile Dancu of the PSD), it can be safely disregarded. The same company claimed that Victor Ponta would easily beat Klaus Iohannis in 2014.
IRES is one of two companies authorised to carry out an exit poll on Sunday. The other is Curs-Avangarde. Neither should be given any real credibility. The PSD’s vote will be inflated, as exit polls do not take into account either votes cast outside Romania nor votes cast after 19:00. The PSD does badly in both segments: if either exit poll gives the PSD 40 per cent or less, then they are in trouble.
Importantly, the exit polls will not be able to say with any real certainty if the smaller parties (ALDE, PRU, PMP) will make it into parliament or not. We will simply need to wait for the results (which should come relatively quickly).
(By the way, the best TV channel for election coverage is likely to be Digi 24. You can watch live, online, here).
4. The PSD will be the largest party
Inflated polls or not, only a political earthquake of the likes never before seen in Romania can prevent the PSD from being the largest party come Sunday night. Not a single opinion poll has suggested we should hope for such a political earthquake: an actual earthquake is far more likely. The PSD’s political machine – inherited from its predecessor, the Romanian Communist Party – is too big and too efficient. How significant the PSD’s victory will be depends on how well the other parties do. And that depends on…
While not as clear cut as two years ago when Klaus Iohannis defeated Victor Ponta (we stated that if turnout exceeded 58 per cent Iohannis would win; turnout was just over 62 per cent) we can make fairly accurate predictions regarding the result based purely on how many people vote. If turnout is lower than 40 per cent, the maths are simple: the PSD will be able to form a majority, possibly on its own or certainly with one (or both) of its satellite parties ALDE and PRU. If 40-42 per cent of voters cast ballots then just about every permutation is possible, but the PSD would remain favourites to form a government. Once turnout hits 43 per cent however everything changes. It at that stage becomes improbable that the PSD could form a majority, not least as neither ALDE nor PRU is likely to make the five per cent parliamentary threshold should turnout be high. Indeed, should turnout exceed 45 per cent then in all likeliness just four parties will enter parliament: PSD, PNL, USR, UDMR. In which case, stalemate (and another election early next year) beckons.
6. Iohannis earns his spurs
Two years after being elected president, Klaus Iohannis may finally have the chance to prove to all of those who queued up around the world to vote for him that they did not do so in vain: the responsibility of nominating a prime minister to form a government falls entirely on the president’s shoulders.
It is likely that at some stage on Monday afternoon Iohannis will invite the parties who have made it into parliament to Cotroceni Palace for ‘consultations.’ He will then nominate a prime minister based on who he feels is best placed to form a majority in parliament. If the results are very tight then it may not be until Tuesday that the consultations are held.
If the PNL and the USR do well and can (with or without the UDMR, PMP and minorities) put together a majority then it’s all rather simple: Iohannis will nominate the current prime minister Dacian Ciolos to form a new government. If, however, as seems most likely, the PSD (with or without ALDE and/or PRU) have more than 50 per cent of the seats in parliament, then it all gets rather complicated.
The PSD has throughout the campaign refused to propose a candidate for prime minister. Possibilities include (but are not limited to) Liviu Dragnea, Victor Ponta, Vasile Dancu, Calin Popescu Tariceanu and, yes, Gabriela Firea. Iohannis has said time and time again that he will not nominate a corrupt politician as prime minister, which would appear to rule out Dragnea, Ponta and Tariceanu. Whether or not Iohannis has the balls to refuse to nominate one of the three should the PSD have a majority is one of the big questions that remains to be answered. We would like to think that he does. However, it would be difficult for him to refuse to nominate Dancu or Firea.
Imagine: Gabriela Firea prime minister. The mind boggles (although at least Bucharest would get a new mayor).
7. The best possible outcome
The USR and PNL combined take more than 50 per cent of the vote, with the USR as the senior partner. Not likely, but not impossible if turnout is high.
8. The worst case scenario
PRU makes the five per cent parliamentary threshold and is brought into government by the PSD. If this happens expect Iohannis to be suspended, the break-up of the DNA, mass emigration, possible civil unrest and even the end of Romania as we know it. The last paragraph of this Times New Roman spoof from Thursday might well turn out to be highly prescient: after all, for how much longer will those parts of the country which actually want to move forward allow themselves to be dragged backwards by those which don’t?
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Go and vote for the USR.
We have a feeling that turnout will be far higher than currently expected: over 45 per cent, possibly even over 50 per cent. These are our predicted results:
Wishful thinking? We’ll see. We remain optimistic.