2016: Political priorities in Romania, Policy priorities in Moldova (I)

On February 9th I had the intellectual privilege to take part to the launch of the Expert Forum (EFOR) ANNUAL REPORT 2016: Political priorities in Romania, Policy priorities in Moldova. It had a timely appearance given the domestic political context in both of our countries. Subsequently I shall briefly present the main ideas of the report, a presentation that would also offer me the opportunity to add some personal considerations regarding the topics it focuses on.

2016 Political Priorities in Romania

You cannot play God then wash your hands of the things that you’ve created. Sooner or later, the day comes when you can’t hide from the things that you’ve done anymore.” (William Adama, Battlestar Galactica)

Romania’s faces two important challenges in the year ahead, both related to the rule of law: the appointment of persons at the top of the judiciary system and the organization of local and parliamentary elections.

Roman_Election. Source: By Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4770357

As regards the judiciary system, after reviewing the situation ahead, and after briefly presenting the situations where changes are to be done, the speakers underlined the need for stability and continuity – meaning fewer institutional changes and a competent and transparent selection of key staff.

Concerning the local elections the main challenge is that a great number of mayors currently in office, which have integrity issues or clientelistic relations with the centre, have the chance to be re-elected with the current First-Past-the-Post voting.

This constitutes a problem in the context where, given last year street protests, the citizens and the civil society expressed their desire to see a reformation of the political system and the return to a two-round system in order to open the political competition.

One lesson that we must learn is that everything changes and the 2016 political map of the local authorities no longer resembles that of 2012 given the fact that local officials migrated in order to gain political support and to receive discretionary resources from the Government – a migration favored mostly by the Government Emergency Ordinance no. 55/2014.

This normative act suspended, for 45 days, two articles of Law no. 393/2004 on the status of local elected officials, giving the local elected officials in office or the substitutes on lists the possibility to leave their political party and opt for another party, organization of national minorities or to become independent. (Government Emergency Ordinance no. 55/2014 for the regulation of some measures in the area of local public administration)

Map_of_the_local_officials_migration_2012_2014. Source: http://expertforum.ro/en/the-map-of-clientelistic-mayors-do-you-know-what-your-mayor-is-up-to/ and http://expertforum.ro/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/EFOR-Raport-anual-2016.pdf

Why is this such an important topic nowadays?

The main issue, in accordance with the authors of the Report, is that of democratization of the electoral campaign – the small parties as well as the individuals have few to none chances in getting elected in the current system who favors those already in place.

In the First-Past-the-Post voting, the probability that the mayor in office to be re-elected is of 80% (Sorin Ioniță, EFOR)

The_Gerry-Mander_(1812)_retouched. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Gerry-Mander_retouched.png#

Moreover this system would currently favor the PSD and UDMR who have increased or maintain their number of local officials.

Source: own graphical representation based upon the data available at http://expertforum.ro/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/EFOR-Raport-anual-2016.pdf

Source: own graphical representation based upon the data available at http://expertforum.ro/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/EFOR-Raport-anual-2016.pdf

See the full event here.

Why does it matter? Possible consequences for the parliamentary elections. Personal considerations

Although somewhat dismissed as importance in comparison with the autumn legislative elections, the local elections may constitute a clear indicator of the things to come – mostly a victory of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and a possible socialist government in the winter of 2016.

Given the fact that the local elections are closing in quickly (the date is set for 5 June 2016) a high number of opposition leaders have started criticizing the First-Past-the-Post voting now in force asking for a the return to a two-round system. For instance PNL, the main opposition party, filed complaint with Government for two-round local elections.

We have managed today to file with the Secretariat General of the Government a complaint for two-round local elections, prerequisite for starting administrative court action. We try to meet the deadline that is already short so that we may reach our objective to have two-round local elections, which entails democracy, representation and legitimacy for the locally elected and even makes [electoral] competition in Romania easier (Alina Gorghiu, Co-chair of the National Liberal Party (PNL), Nine O’clock, 12 February 2016)

Legislative_elections_voting_intentions_2016. Source: own graphical representation based upon the opinion polls available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanian_legislative_election,_2016 and http://www.stiripesurse.ro/sondaj-psd-surclaseaza-pnl-singura-sansa-a-liberalilor_983643.html

Above I have done a graphical representation of the voting intentions as they resulted in the second semester of 2015 and early 2016, having as clear starting point the results obtained in the European Parliament elections from May 2014, which clearly shows us a trend toward a multi-party system instead of the two-party system the politicians spoke about in the past.

At first glance we can see that both PSD (centre left, ESP) and the PNL (centre right, EPP) seem to have reach their growth limit, as they are between the 30% – 40% voting intentions lane.

There are a series of parties: Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE), (centrist, ALDE), Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), (centre-right, EPP) and the People’s Movement Party (PMP) (centre-right, EPP) that struggle around the 5% electoral threshold, with variable chance of entering into Parliament.

In theory a potential good news for the PNL is that is has an alliance potential with other centre-right parties. In practice, these other parties, either have an alliance with the PSD (like ALDE  for the local elections, a Collaboration protocol signed in February 2016) or they have a somehow unfriendly attitude towards PNL (such as PMP).

Another bad news in relation with the expressed desire to reform the political establishment – no new political parties seem to have the possibility to enter into Parliament with the exception of those based on strong political personalities (such as Traian Băsescu’s PMP) who have their own die-hard fans that can propel them into major politics

In conclusion if the situation goes unchallenged PSD has the chance to obtain the highest number of votes due to its territorial reach and highly disciplined political apparatus

Wild card event

There is room for a new personality based party, either inspired by the current Prime-minister or the President or some other figure,  that might reach enough traction among the undecided voters to enter into Parliament and formed the new government in an alliance with PNL and possible other parties. For PSD it would mean probably a continued opposition period.

Premises for that:

  • there is growth potential for new parties as a large number of voters are unrepresented;
  • we have a technocrat government that is supposed to be something different from our day to day political class;
  • the technocrats need to have at least a medium to high performance;
  • the political class doesn’t do anything to alleviate its negative image and instead does other mistakes;
  • a new black swan event appears (with the amplitude of the Colectiv tragedy) that ignites the spark for new civil unrest and political change (see my piece A #Collective driven change – Romania’s 2015 autumn protests and their implications).

To be continued.