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Analysis: Elections A Slap In The Face Of Romania's Ruling Party

  • Michael Shafir

http://gdb.rferl.org/F4EFD2D3-426D-4D4D-B05F-E6CEFA4F8FCA_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/F4EFD2D3-426D-4D4D-B05F-E6CEFA4F8FCA_mw800_mh600.jpg The ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) suffered an embarrassing defeat in local elections held on 6 and 20 June. This can be viewed as a bad omen for the PSD ahead of the November parliamentary and presidential elections.

While it is true that local elections have their own rules, and that the several electoral systems employed in this ballot are different from that which will be used in the parliamentary elections, a trend is obvious and the PSD would be foolish to ignore it. Mayors are elected in Romania on a winner-take-all basis, with runoffs taking place between the best-placed first two candidates if no candidate garners more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round. In parliamentary elections, on the other hand, a proportional system is employed. But the winner-take-all system is used in the presidential elections.

Viewed from either of these angles, the result of the local elections carries a threatening message for the PSD. For while the party managed to get the largest number of mayors elected (1,695 out of 3,138), it lags behind its chief rival, the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance, in the number of votes garnered nationwide: with some 99 percent of the vote officially counted so far, the PSD has 40.67 of the runoff vote and the alliance has 43.40 percent. In other words, in a presidential runoff in which PNL-Democratic candidate Theodor Stolojan would likely be facing incumbent Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, the opposition would win the presidency.

The prospects are no better for the ruling party in the parliamentary elections. In order for the comparison between local and legislative elections to be valid, one should look at the outcome of the elections to the county councils, where -- as in the parliamentary elections -- a proportional system is applied. Were the November parliamentary elections to produce the same ratio of votes, the opposition alliance would have a very slight edge (38.57 percent) over the PSD (37.81 percent). That means that the three smaller parties that would cross the 5 percent electoral threshold (the Greater Romania Party, with 8 percent; the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, with 7.7 percent; and the Humanist Party with 5 percent) would have the final say in the composition of the next government. But even more decisive would be turnout, which is likely to be higher than the 54 percent registered in the first round of the local elections and the somewhat lower turnout registered in the runoff.
It should be noted that the PSD was not the only loser in the local elections. Not only did Gheorghe Funar of the extremist Greater Romania Party fail in his bid for a fourth term as mayor of Cluj, but the PRM scored a meager 8 percent in the county council elections.


There are several conclusions to be drawn from this situation. First, the introduction of a 5 percent threshold in the local elections has practically eliminated the smaller parties from Romania's political map, and they are unlikely to perform any better in the parliamentary elections, where the threshold has been in place since 2000. This is likely to produce in Romania a "2+2" or a "2+3" political system, with two major formations and two or three smaller ones, and in which the latter exert an influence out of all proportion to their actual strength. The next government could equally well be headed by the PSD as by the PNL-Democratic Party alliance, or it could be a coalition with either of these two formations playing the role of the senior partner.

Second, the opposition alliance performed impressively, particularly where it ran on joint lists rather than separately. Its major victory in Bucharest, where PNL-Democratic Party co-Chairman Traian Basescu won a second mayoral term in the first round and alliance candidates carried four out of the city's six sectors, speaks for itself. But in Cluj, too, where PNL-Democratic Party candidate Emil Boc won the runoff against the PSD candidate, former Interior Minister Ioan Rus, the outcome underscores the advantage of the joint-lists formula. As the alliance will use this formula in the parliamentary elections, its chances look brighter than in the local elections, where -- Bucharest and Cluj excepted -- the separate lists were preferred.

Third, it should be noted that the alliance also made inroads into the heartland of PSD support, winning the Moldavian mayoralties of Suceava, Piatra-Neamt, Falticeni, and Botosani. But the PSD nonetheless continues to govern Romania's least-developed counties, where a large proportion of the population lives. Moreover, it controls the electronic media, which is very influential in determining electoral outcomes. The Romanian Academic Society (SAR), a Bucharest-based independent NGO, noted after the first round that one is dealing here with "a typical Third World pattern, which functions successfully in more than one-third of Romania today."

Finally, it should be noted that the PSD was not the only loser in the local elections. Not only did Gheorghe Funar of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) fail in his bid for a fourth term as mayor of Cluj, but the PRM scored a meager 8 percent in the county-council elections. In the parliamentary elections of 2000, the extremist party won some 19 percent of the vote for the Chamber of Deputies and some 21 percent of the vote for the Senate and its leader, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, received 28.37 percent in the first presidential round, losing in the runoff with 33.17 percent against Ion Iliescu. Tudor is, however, known to be a skilled populist orator and his party may again improve its showing in the 2004 parliamentary ballot.
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