30/10/2008 - Analysis
18,313,440 Romanians are being called to vote on 30th November to renew the two Chambers in Parliament. 221 polling stations including 29 in the USA, 20 in Spain, 19 in Italy, 14 in the UK and 5 in France – will be opened abroad (+ 79 in comparison with the previous election on 28th November 2004).
The electoral campaign started on November 1st and will end on 29th November.
The Romanian Political System
Similar to the French political system the Romanian approach is however more parliamentarian than the latter. Hence the President of the Republic, elected for five years (since the constitutional reform of 2004, the election of the Head of State is separate from that of Parliament), enjoys more limited powers in Bucharest than in Paris. The present Head of State, Traian Basescu (Democratic Liberal Party, PD-L) was elected on 12th December 2004. The President appoints the Prime Minister after "consultation with the party that holds the absolute majority in Parliament or if there is no majority, with the parties represented in Parliament" (article 103-1 of the Constitution). He cannot overrule this. Parliament is bicameral and both Chambers are renewed every four years. The Upper Chamber, the Senate, comprises 143 members and the Lower Chamber, the Chamber of Deputies (Camera deputatilor), 346 MPs.
The national minorities (Roms, German, Armenians, Italians, Croats, Albanians, Serbs, etc.) have a number of seats set aside in the Chamber of Deputies (9 in 1990, 13 in 1992, 15 in 1996, 18 in 2000 and in 2004).
For the first time in these general and senatorial elections the Romanians will be voting for individual candidates, ie a mixed majority system; this is unlike the system they had before whereby candidates were elected by proportional representation from lists drawn up by the political parties. With this new voting method any candidate that wins over 50% of the vote may be declared victorious in the first round. However some principles from the proportional system remain. Hence votes for candidates that have not been elected are added together nationally and redistributed amongst the political parties. An MP has to rally 70, 000 votes to his name and a Senator 160,000 in order to be elected.
Voting will take place within 41 constituencies. This new voting method adopted on 11th March satisfies 75% of Romanians – according to an opinion poll – who said they were unhappy with the quality of their MPs and that they preferred to select their representatives by name.
With the new system the authorities are aiming to put an end to the registration of people on the electoral lists who want to take advantage of the immunity granted to them as candidates. They also hope to reduce the power held by the political parties thereby fighting corruption more effectively. The introduction of the majority system will probably handicap the "small" parties which do not have many celebrities known to the man on the street amongst their ranks.
President Traian Basescu, who was originally against any change to the voting methods then changed his mind finally to promote it. On 25th November 2007, on the same day as the first European elections in Romania, he organised a referendum on the issue. A great majority of Romanians voted in favour of a majority system (81.36%), 16.17% were against it. Turn out was very low (26.51%), and this led to the invalidation of the referendum. Amongst the parties only the Greater Romania Party (PRM), was against the change.
The Democratic Liberal Party is now suggesting a change to the new electoral system. It would like to turn Romania into a unicameral country arguing that a parliament with just one chamber is more effective and that Romania, which has 22 million inhabitants has 469 MPs whilst the Congress of the USA, a country with 300 million inhabitants is run with just 535 representatives.
"Firstly a bicameral Parliament is not justified because the present Parliament only works with one Chamber. We have a Chamber which decides on the laws and another in which the laws are adopted. Romania is not a federal state and consequently we do not need dual representation. Last but not least we should model ourselves on the European Parliament which is unicameral," maintains PD-L campaign director, Emil Bloc. He believes that 300 MPs are enough to represent a country such as Romania. At present the party is passing a petition round in support of another change to the means of voting and is promising to do away with the privileges enjoyed by MPs immediately after its victory (if it wins) in the general and senatorial elections on 30th November next. "We want to offer the next Parliament five million votes in support of the revision of the Constitution," declares Emil Bloc. Only the President of the Republic or a quarter of MPs can initiate the revision of the fundamental law.
6 political parties are represented in the Chamber of Deputies at present:
- the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the main opposition party led by Mircea Geoana, with 113 MPs;
- the National Liberal Party (PNL) led by Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu with 64 seats;
- the Democratic Party (PD), member of the government coalition led by Calin Popescu-Tariceanu until April 2007. After having been joined by several members of the National Liberal Party, it became the Democratic Liberal Party in December 2007. The party President Traian Basescu belongs to is led by Emil Bloc and has 48 MPs;
- the Greater Romania Party (PRM), a far right party led by parti Corneliu Vadim Tudor, with 48 seats;
- the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), member of the outgoing government coalition, led by Marko Bela, with 22 MPs;
- the Humanist Party (PUR), member of Calin Popescu-Tariceanu's government until December 2006 ; since that time the party has become the Conservative Party (PC) with 19 seats.
4 years on: what can be said about results?
The general and senatorial elections of 30th November next will be the first since the constitutional reform of 2004 and the decoupling of the legislative and presidential mandates. Four years later nothing is left of the Alliance of the two main rightwing parties, the National Liberal Party and the Democratic Party which formed a government in 2004. Under the name of Truth and Justice (DA) which they also used as their motto, the two parties won both elections (parliamentarian and presidential) thanks to the popularity of Traian Basescu elected as Head of State and as the electoral head of the National-Liberal Party that was to form a government as a consequence.
By combining a liberal economic doctrine with the idea of a fair distribution of wealth the Alliance programme made the fight against corruption its focus of attention. But the results of four years of government are mitigated.
One of the prior conditions for Romania's accession to the EU was the reform of the legal system and the fight against corruption which started vigorously in 2005; this soon lacked energy after 2007. The appointment of Monica Macovei, lawyer and representative of civil society as Justice Minister in December 2004 was a strong signal sent out to the European Commission with regard to the government's desire to clean up the judicial system and to start the real fight against corruption. The creation of the National Agency for Integrity which monitors the property of dignitaries and the reform of the Supreme Magistrates Council together with the status of magistrates were some of the achievements under her mandate; these led to the favourable opinion on the part of the European Commission with regard to Romania's integration on 1st January 2007.
However in April 2007 whilst the Justice and Internal Affairs' co-operation and monitoring mechanism was still in application Monica Macovei was replaced by Tudor Chiuariu and then by Catalin Prediou. These changes weakened the government's credibility in its effort to continue anti-corruption activities; it also explains why the Commission continued to have a poor opinion of the intermediary reports delivered by the Secretary General of the European Commission. The Commission's last report in July 2008 painted a mitigated picture with regard to Romania's progress: although the main judicial tools were firmly established the fight against corruption is still extremely politicized. The doubts about Adrian Nastase's (former Prime Minister – 2000-2004 and former chair of the main opposition party) parliamentary immunity illustrates how politics had taken over the fight against corruption. In addition to this the inquiry undertaken with regard to Adrian Nastase finally compromised his political career within the Social Democratic Party and enabled Mircea Geoana to become the party's new leader.
President Traian Basescu recalled that "Romania's aim is to be free of the European Commission's monitoring mechanism before July 2009." A goal that seems to be hard to achieve for the time being.
The Truth and Justice Alliance also presented itself as the most anti-Communist party in Romania. After many calls on the part of civil society intellectuals and representatives Traian Basescu established a Presidential Commission under the management of Vladimir Tismaneanu to analyse the Communist dictatorship in Romania; the commission's task was to write an official report on the regime, thereby leading to the official condemnation of Communism. In December 2006 President Traian Basescu, who sat in joint session with the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate declared that the Romanian Communist regime had been "illegitimate and criminal". On the eve of Romania's accession to the EU the gesture was highly symbolic.
Although from an economic point of view the Tariceanu government has enjoyed better times with an average growth rate of 6 to 7% and a record amount of direct foreign investment, politically its mandate has proven to be one of the most turbulent.
Very soon after the elections the Liberal and Democratic alliance became increasingly complicated to maintain due to the tense relations between President Basescu and Prime Minister Tariceanu. Although until 2007 the joint goal of joining the EU bound the coalition together – after that date Mr Tariceanu's government experienced one of the most political and constitutional crises ever.
On 12th February 2007, the Social Democratic Party and the Greater Romania Party lodged a request to suspend President Traian Basescu from his post due to infringements of the Constitution (lack of impartiality and involvement in the political arena). On 17th April Parliament approved 322 votes in favour 108 against (and 10 abstentions) the suspension of the Head of State under the accusation of "excessive control of State institutions, interference in the law and protection of the interests of the Romanian mafia." In spite of the National-Liberal Party's approval of this request the referendum organised a month later (19th May 2007) confirmed Traian Basescu in his post and put an end to the crisis. When asked "Do you support the impeachment of the President of the Republic Traian Basescu?" the "no" vote won 74.48% against 24.75% for the "yes". However this then led to the collapse of the Truth and Justice Alliance and within the Alliance to the end of the National Liberal Party; some of its members joined the Democratic Party to create the Democratic Liberal Party.
Wage claims lead the way
The electoral campaign is proving to be lively. The order of the electorate's priorities has changed. According to a CCSB poll at the end of September the Romanian electorate is less concerned with corruption than with its living standards and incomes. Rapid growth over the last few years based on low labour costs is no longer working. The unions are increasingly mobilised and wage demands were more frequent in 2008. The first steps taken towards raising wages turned out to be inadequate. The minimum salary rose from 500 lei (142 €) to 540 lei per month (150 €) on October 1st last. As from January 2009 this will rise to 600 lei (171 €). Around 10% of Romanians have left their country since the fall of the Berlin Wall in search of better living conditions.
For the last month wage and pension increases have been the focus of pre-electoral debate. On 29th September the Chamber of Deputies approved an increase of over 50% to teachers' and pensioners' income. Calin Popescu-Tariceanu's government was against this believing the vote to be "irresponsible" and challenged the decision before the Constitutional Court on the grounds that there were insufficient funds for these measures. The law was passed by President Basescu on 27th October which put the Prime Minister's party in an awkward position. The Romanian president also said he supported the increase of civil servants' wages in other categories such as healthcare and justice.
Many Social Promises
A bitter battle is being fought with regard to socio-economic promises. The National-Liberal Party's programme is relatively moderate – it has set the goal of making Romania the 7th greatest economic power in Europe; the Democratic and Social Democratic Parties' promises are however extremely generous.
Hence the Liberals are promising, if they win, an annual growth rate of between 6-7% over the next four years, establishing a correlation between economic growth and improving living standards. They are promising the Romanians a living standard equal to 62% of the European average by 2012 in comparison with 44% at present. If they win the National-Liberal Party is promising take Romania into the euro area by 2014. Calin Popescu Tariceanu is the National Liberal party's candidate for the position of Prime Minister. If they win MEPs Renate Weber and Daniel Daianu should also enter government.
The Democratic Liberal Party is promising to bring the average wage to 900€, pensions up to 305€ and family allowance up to 100 lei (28 €) per month in 2012. They too would like to achieve a living standard equal to 62% of the European average and to join the euro area in 2014. Economist and present chair of the Democratic Liberal Party, Theodor Stolojan, who is also technocratic and popular is running for the party for the post of Prime Minister. The former chair of the National-Liberal Party also ran to be Head of government for the Truth and Justice Alliance during the previous parliamentary elections on 28th November 2004; however he withdrew when his party won. Emil Bloc, Mayor of Cluj Napoca may claim the position of head of government if Theodor Stolojan withdraws.
The Democratic Liberal Party is planning to govern with a team of 17-19 people. Vasile Blaga, the unfortunate candidate running for the town hall of Bucharest in June (he was beaten in the second round by the independent candidate and former Social Democratic Party member, Sorin Oprescu – 55.55% to 43.45%) may be appointed to Internal Affairs, Radu Berceanu to Transport, Monica Macovei to Justice and Adriean Videanu to Finance.
But the most generous party is by far the Social Democratic Party : a minimum salary of 1000 lei (280€), a reduction in energy tariffs for the lowest incomes, VAT reductions down to 5% on basic foodstuffs, an increase in the number of free medicines.
To implement this programme the Social Democratic Party is putting forward a government led by Mircea Geoana who would be assisted by two Deputy Prime Ministers (Daniela Popa and Miron Mitrea). Several names have been mentioned to form a cabinet including Victor Ponta for Justice, Titus Corlatean for Foreign Affairs and Cristian Diaconescu for Defence.
The electoral excesses we witness in the social domain also apply to infrastructures. Although seventeen years have passed since the change of regime Romania only has 264km of motorway; the three main parties are promising to remedy this situation. The National Liberal Party wants to devote 25 million € in investments over the next four years, the Democratic Liberal Party hopes to build 800km of additional motorway and the Social Democratic Party, 1,000km.
Finally the three main parties agree to maintain a single income tax rate adopted on January 1st 2005 set at 16% and to facilitate the creation of companies by reducing bureaucratic formalities.
"Over the next few weeks we shall see a crucial battle between the left and the right, between the National Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party, between the future and the past," declared Calin Popescu-Tariceanu in September. "A more liberal Romania is a European Romania which offers opportunities to the population, a leftwing Romania is not a safe country and lives in the past. If the Social Democratic Party comes to power it will increase taxes, abolish the single income tax in order to recover money so that it can honour its promises," maintains the Prime Minister.
For his part the Social Democratic leader, Mircea Geoana is using the present financial crisis to say that "neo-liberalism is bankrupt – not only in Romania but everywhere in the world." "The Social Democratic Party is the only one able to re-establish social and economic balance," he says. Although he admits that the country has experienced high economic growth over the last few years he recalls that Romania has the lowest savings levels in Europe which make it particularly vulnerable.
The Celebrity Race
In a country where 58% of the electorate defines itself as neither left nor rightwing and where 71% say that the political leaning of the future government is of no importance the personality of the political leaders and the electoral strategies they employ are vital and can make a difference. For the last month the parties have been refining their campaign strategy which this year will be more difficult to define due to the complexity of the new electoral law which obliges parties to focus their campaign in the constituencies and not just on a national level.
Many parties are currying favour with the famous. The Democratic Liberal Party convinced former journalist Catalin Avramescu and former presidential advisor and diplomat Sever Voinescu to stand in the constituency of Prahova; Roberta Anastase, who is at present an MEP and former Miss Universe candidate will also be standing on 30th November. The National Liberal Party convinced actor and TV producer, Florin Calinescu to run in the senatorial elections in Arges (in the south of Romania), TV presenter George Calinescu and folksinger Furdui Iancu will also be running.
In another category former Prime Minister (1989-1991) Petre Roman will be running in the senatorial elections for the college Europe for Romanians abroad just like Daniel Barbum professor of political science and international law at the University of Bucharest.
In Search of a Majority
The re-organisation of the political arena after the scission of the Truth and Justice Alliance led to a situation whereby no party was able to win a majority of votes and to form a government alone.
The most recent national elections – the local and regional elections on 1st and 15th June witnessed the victory of the Social Democratic Party which won the greatest number of posts in terms of town halls, councillors and regional councils (see below). The Democratic Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party did however win an almost identical number of votes.
After the election three political parties covered the Romanian political arena: on the left, the Social Democratic Party, which is well established in the east of the country and in rural areas, and on the right the Democratic Liberal Party and far behind these two the National Liberal Party which attracted the more urban dwelling voters. However since voters mostly vote on local issues in the local and regional elections, it is difficult to forecast the outcome of the general and senatorial elections on 30th November.
The opinion poll by INSOMAR undertaken between 12th and 17th September announced that 39% were going to vote for the Democratic Liberal Party; 25% for the Social Democratic Party; 20% for the National Liberal Party; 4% for the Greater Romania Party; 3% for the New Generation Party and 1% for the Conservative Party. The CCSB poll undertaken between 22nd and 25th September has drawn different conclusions. It declares the Social Democratic-Conservative Party with 36% of the vote as the winners, followed by the Democratic Liberal Party with 34% and the National Liberal Party with 20%. These parties are due to come out ahead of the Democratic Union of the Hungarians of Romania (5%), the Greater Romania Party (3%), the New Generation Party (2%) and the National Democratic Christian Party (PNTCD) with 1% of the vote.
The latest poll undertaken between 1st and 11th October by the Centre for Social Research shows that President Traian Basescu is still Romania's most popular political personality. He was chosen by 63.1% of those interviewed and is ahead of the present mayor of Bucharest, independent Sorin Oprescu (62.7%), the candidate running for Prime Minister from the Democratic Liberal Party, Theodor Stolojan (49.9%) and present Head of Government Calin Popescu Tariceanu (46.2%) and the leader of the Social Democratic Party, Mircea Geoana (46.2%).
If there is no majority the three parties with the greatest electoral scores will have to try and form a coalition. The Social Democratic Party already allied itself to the Conservative Party on 17th April which should improve its profile in the media Antena 1, 2, 3 as well as in the newspaper Jurnalul National, which belong to Conservative Party founder, Dan Voiculescu. It remains to be seen whether the Conservative Party still wants to be a member of this alliance after the elections. It is the second time that the former Humanist Party has taken the Social Democratic Party as its ally. In the general and senatorial elections on 28th November 2004 it left the Social Democratic Party just after the election to join the Truth and Justice Alliance, which won. Two years later the Conservative Party left the government coalition. The National Liberal Party has made an electoral alliance with the National Christian Democratic Party.
These alliances will probably lead to the entrance of "small" parties into Parliament – the creation of a government majority however is more uncertain.
According to an Insomar poll the Democratic Liberal-National Liberal Party alliance is due to win which is however highly unlikely given the scission that has taken place between the two parties. A CCSB poll puts a Social Democratic Party-Conservative Party- National Liberal Party alliance ahead. Although this is ideologically improbable the two parties have however worked together in Parliament since 2007 including with regard to the establishment of the present electoral law. The formation of a minority government cannot be excluded either.
President Traian Basescu has in fact said that he is not against the establishment of such a government; this may mean that he would not object to the Democratic Liberal Party forming a government even if this party was beaten in the ballot by the Social Democratic Party and the National Liberal Party.
The composition of the Regional Councils after the local elections on 1st and 15th June 2008 (in %)
Reminder of the general and senatorial results of 28th November 2004 in Romania
Turn out: 56.%
Turn out: 56.5%