It wasn’t just pig farmers in Teleorman who woke up to the smell of shit this morning: the entire country was last night overtaken by an all-pervasive stench so putrid that Romania could spend the next four years in the shower and still not wash it off.
As you will probably by now know, the PSD won yesterday’s parliamentary election by a huge margin, taking more than 46 per cent of the vote. The PNL was the second largest party, a long, long way behind on 20.5 per cent. The USR ended up with nine per cent of the vote. The UDMR, ALDE and PMP also made it into parliament.
Turnout was the lowest it has ever been, below 40 per cent. Think about that for a minute: six out of every ten Romanians do not care how much of the money they pay in tax is stolen or wasted.
The margin of victory will allow the PSD to do just about anything it wants. We need to wait until later today (when the parliamentary seats are distributed) to see if it can govern on its own, but even it needs to co-opt ALDE, a loyal lapdog, its grip on the country will be absolute. In his victory speech (given immediately after the polls had closed) the PSD’s leader Liviu Dragnea (a convicted criminal, remember) made it clear that he expected ‘all state institutions’ to respect ‘the will of the people’. This was a clear message to Romania’s anti-corruption unit, the DNA: ‘The people have spoken and they don’t mind corruption, so stop arresting good, honest criminals like me’. Or words to that effect. The DNA and its leader Laura Codruta Kovesi are in for a difficult few months. With such a comfortable pro-corruption majority about to be installed in parliament the DNA’s survival can no longer be guaranteed.
What should we expect from an all-powerful PSD?
- An all-out attack on the justice system. Expect the DNA to have its wings clipped, and the appointment of hundreds of magistrates friendly to the PSD. The ICCJ (which usually hears the appeals of convicted dignitaries and politicians) will be packed with PSD stooges. Both Dragnea and former prime minister Victor Ponta (and a number of other PSD MPs) have possible trials approaching. The watering-down of the justice system will be the new government’s number one priority.
- An end to the reforms of the past 12 months, particularly in health where the exposure in recent weeks of the shocking amount of corruption in Romania’s hospitals has demonstrated just how precarious the state of the health service actually is. There will be a quick return to the opacity of the past, whistle blowers will be silenced and Romanians will continue to die unnecessarily.
- Changes to the constitution; Dragnea was already drooling over the prospect last night. The roles of parliament and of the prime minister will be boosted, while that of the president severely diminished. Specifically, the appointments currently made by the president (the heads of the DNA and the SRI, as well as foreign ambassadors) will be reassigned to the prime minister. There may even be an attempt to make the nomination of prime minister a strictly parliamentary matter.
- Zero toleration of dissent. ANAF (the tax authority) and other government agencies will once again become political weapons for the PSD to use against opponents. Newspapers and websites which do not sing to the party’s tune should expect knocks on the door.
- Visible nationalism. Expect to see Romanian flags everywhere, all the time, and far fewer EU flags. Expect sustained campaigns directed against foreign imports, foreign influence, foreign NGOs and foreigners in general.
- Economic meltdown. If the PSD keeps even half of its election promises Romania will be bankrupt in 18 months.
As sociologist Barbu Mateescu quite brilliantly put it: ‘Romania is going to look a lot like Belarus, just with more Coca-Cola.’
More than ever Romania now needs a strong and determined opposition committed to the rule of law and the fight against corruption. But who will that opposition be? The PNL has never been an effective counterweight to the PSD, siding with its opponents far too often in the name of ‘stability’ or ‘national unity’ (read: the ciolan is big enough for all of us). The USR, while it did well (although not as well as we hoped) will have no more than 40 seats in parliament and will not be able to block legislation on its own. The UDMR will look after itself, as always, and while (a visibly drunk) Traian Basescu tried to claim last night that his PMP would be a ‘fierce’ opponent of the PSD his (and his party’s) own problems with the law mean that he will not be leading the fight against corruption.
Which leaves the president, Klaus Iohannis.
His first test may come as soon as this afternoon if, as seems likely given the PSD’s share of the vote, Dragnea nominates himself as prime minister. Iohannis has repeatedly said that he will not appoint a convicted criminal as PM (indeed, the law forbids it). Should he give in, then the rule of law in Romania would have come to an abrupt end.
Should he refuse to appoint Dragnea however (which could see him suspended: bring it on!) then the resistance can begin to take shape: Iohannis, the DNA, the USR, decent bits of the PNL (they do exist), Dacian Ciolos (possibly), civil society and those few parts of the press which remain objective.
It’s not much to work with, but any guerrilla movement has to start somewhere.
PS Neither of the lunatic-extremist parties (the racist PRU nor the neo-legionary ANR) made it into parliament. Neither came close. In fact, the ANR appears to have got just 61,000 votes. Where then, did the 200,000 signatures it needed to get on the ballot paper come from? We are sure that the relevant authorities will be launching an enquiry…