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Expert Comment: Romania's elections

Election Monday 3 December 2012

On Sunday 9th December Romanians will vote in parliamentary elections at the end of an extremely turbulent year for Romania’s domestic politics. Hope Geography Department's Dr Duncan Light looks back at recent events in the country.

At the last elections in 2008 the Liberal Democratic Party (associated with the unpopular president Traian Basescu (pictured)) won a narrow majority and governed in an uneasy coalition with the opposition Social Democrats.  After a year the Social Democrats withdrew from the coalition and Romania was governed by a minority administration composed of the Liberal Democrats and the party representing Romania’s Hungarian minority.

The Prime Minister’s attempt to implement severe austerity measures led to mass street protests throughout the country over the winter of 2011-12.  Eventually the government was defeated in a no-confidence vote proposed by the Social Democrats (a wily and opportunistic group of political operators).  A government of technocrats (led by the youthful and Western-educated Mihai Razvan Ungureanu) was appointed, only to be defeated after two months by a further no-confidence vote proposed by the Social Liberal Union (an unlikely alliance between the Social Democrats and the National Liberal Party).

Romania’s third Prime Minister of 2012 was Victor Ponta, the leader of the Social Democrats.  Ponta led efforts to impeach President Basescu (the second time the Social Democrats have tried this) which were defeated in a referendum which failed to achieve sufficient turnout.  In 2012 Ponta was accused of plagiarising his doctoral thesis, while a former Social Democrat prime minister was imprisoned for corruption.

Add to all this the political opportunism of many Romanian politicians who simply switch parties when their current party is unpopular and it’s easy to see why ordinary Romanians are more disenchanted than ever with their political leaders.  Hence apathy and low turnout are likely to be a big factor in Sunday’s elections.  Opinion polls suggest that the Social-Liberal Union may win an outright majority indicating the widespread dislike for President Basescu and the Liberal Democratic Party. 

Whether the Social-Liberal Union – seemingly held together by little more than a shared dislike for the President – can survive remains to be seen, presenting the prospect of further instability and infighting in the future.  Romania’s economy needs urgent reforms (particularly to reduce the dependence on imports) but it’s hard to see how an improbable left-right coalition is going to agree about how to tackle Romania’s problems. 




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