by Cornelia ZEINEDDINE – Romania’s Social Democrats (PSD) won a landslide win in the parliamentary elections on Sunday, 11 December, according to official results. Over 96 percent of the votes were counted, indicating that the Social Democratic Party led the polls with roughly 46 percent. Its main rival, the National Liberal Party, has reached a score of nearly 20%. The other parties that will be part of the Parliament in the next mandate are: the Alliance of Liberal and Democrats (ALDE), the Party of the Popular Movement (PMP) – the party led by the former President, Mr. Traian BĂSESCU – and the Union of Hungarians from Romania (UDMR) – the biggest party representing national minorities. These parties accounted approximately 5 or 6 percent of the votes, meeting the margin of 5 percent that grants the access to Parliament.
The Romanian voters appear to have strongly endorsed PSD, enabling their come back to power in parliamentary elections on Sunday, a year after the protests over an accident (fire) having happened in a nightclub led to the resignation of then Prime Minister and his government. The former PSD Prime Minister, Mr. Victor PONTA was replaced by a technocratic government. He left office in November 2015, after the tragedy that happened in a nightclub in Bucharest. The blaze took the life of 64 persons and protests erupted over government’s corruption. A new government led by the former European Commissary, Dacian Julien CIOLOȘ, filled the executive void.
In the aftermath of the elections’ preliminary results PSD declared it is inclined to lead the country over the next four year together with the smaller Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) part (reiterating the promise of the campaign), which obtained around 5-6 percent of the vote.
During the campaign, PSD’s party leader, Mr. Liviu DRA GNEA, promised significant government spending on increasing salaries and pensions, infrastructure and health care development and tax cuts. Romania is known as the fastest growing economy European Union, but inequality remains sharp, the salaries being low (compared to the EU level) and poverty still being a grim reality. As a result, many Romanians work and established their life in other European countries. It is not only the laborers that left Romania for better economic prospects, but also the professionals. For example, it seems that France has more Romanian doctors than Romania and there is urgent need for upgrading the medical system so that the exodus of doctors is curbed. There are many other sectors that need development and public spending.
As a general remark, the voter turnout for the elections on Sunday was slightly less than 40 percent. The electorate showed passivity, invoking the little impact governance brings on the average Romanian’s daily life. The implication of the Romanians in diaspora during this election was much lower, aspect reflected by the small-scale turnout.
In a Europe overwhelmed by a wave of Euroscepticism and with the central-left losing popularity, the Romanian elections showed signs of distinctiveness. None of the Romanian parties campaigned on an openly Eurosceptic platform. Mr. DRAGNEA emphasized that under PSD rule; the country would respect all of its international commitments and would act upon Brussels’s recommendations, while allowing priority for the national interests.
In the short and medium term, the main theme in Romania is going to be the economy, not identity and European values. The current campaign did not revolve around corruption as the main theme; the population has showed instead its preference for economic progress. It was a vote with the aim of building up on the economic growth and seeking better life standards rather than the blame votes that are on the rise in Europe together with the populist movements. One should not neglect a striking fact: one third of Romanians earn the minimum wage and every raise and/or promise of enhancing the economy matters.
If one can note a surprise, a party formed in February 2016 – the Union Save Romania party -, headed by the activist and mathematician Mr. Nicușor DAN has won approximately 9 percent of the votes. This party had indeed as a main campaign theme the anti-corruption and anti-establishment message.
When it comes to predicting the future Prime Minister of Romania, it seems Mr. DRAGNEA should be the favorite, in light of PSD’s striking victory and given that he has the support of his party.
However, the problem is Mr. DRAGNEA’s clash with the justice system in the past: he has a two-year suspended jail sentence for infringing the law during the referendum in 2012. One alternative PSD contender for the premiership is Vasile DÎNCU, deputy prime-minister in the government led by the technocrat Dacian CIOLOŞ.
The President of Romania will probably start on Monday – 12 December- to invite parties to consultations in order to form the new government and he might refuse a proposal for Mr. DRAGNEA. It is in the tradition of many European countries that the leader of the party which won the elections is the next Prime Minister. But in the context of the aforementioned circumstances and given that the President declared that he wants to endorse a prime minister clear of criminal convictions and judicial scrutiny (there is an active investigation regarding Mr. DRAGNEA involving abuse of office), some might argue Mr. Vasile DÎNCU, the current deputy prime minister, is a safer bet to become prime minister. There are other names to be suggested, for example Mrs. Rovana PLUMB, Mrs. Corina CREȚU (European Commissioner for Regional Policy), and Mr. George MAIOR, the Romanian Ambassador to USA (also a PSD member). The following days will enlighten us regarding the definite results. The parties would like to seal a new government before the end of the year, and the new government’ ministers should take the oath before 2016 comes to an end.
In sum, the elections revolved around the economy, while ranking corruption as a subsidiary theme of the campaign. There has been little said or proposed about Romania’s stance on European and international affairs. There were some small parties (newly created) that played the card of Euroscepticism and proposed overtly nationalistic programs, but they were sidelined during the elections. The elections surveys had already indicated a strong preference for the Social Democratic Party; perhaps the only surprise is its landslide victory. The advance has started to be visible on the occasion of the local elections in summer 2016. PSD proved successful in mobilizing its electoral base further for the parliamentary elections. Its contenders have thought the party’s main rival, the National Liberal Party, might win enough votes to form a coalition with the Union Save Romania and associate themselves with the image of the technocrat politician, Dacian CIOLOȘ. They promoted governmental transparency and greater compliance with the anti-corruption reforms. There is not clear yet whether UDMR is going to be part of any political coalition or it is going to be merely represented as an opposition group. Overall, the population who decided to cast the vote was ultimately attracted to a program comprising more promises at economic level through the next years.