This interview was broadcast live on Bulgarian National Radio, in the Horizon program on December 7, 2020.
Georgi Markov: Elections took place in Romania during the pandemic as well. The country’s citizens were called to vote yesterday for their representatives in the lower chamber of parliament and senate. The low turnout marked these elections, which according to the latest data were won by the Social Democrats. The second place was occupied by the ruling National Liberal Party. One of the surprises in these elections is the Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR). The party finished fourth according to the preliminary results.
These results reveal a fragmented political image that necessitates a governing coalition. What could it look like and what changes are happening in Romania’s political life? We will now look for the answers with our colleague Vladimir Mitev, the founder of the news site about Romania and Bulgaria “The Bridge of Friendship” and the editor of the Romanian section of the site “Barricade”.
Good evening, colleague Mitev!
What does the victory of the Social Democrats mean for the political life in Romania?
First of all, we must say that the results of the Social Democrats are a success and a result, showing that they are overcoming the crisis, after their former leader Liviu Dragnea went to prison and they lost the executive power in 2019. But, more importantly, the two right-wing formations – the National Liberal Party, and the Alliance between Save Romania Union and the Plus Party wanted to get a clear majority to pursue pro-market and pro-business policies, but failed. The good results for the Social Democrats and the unsatisfactory results of the two right-wing parties meant that the forces in the new parliamentary term will continue to be relatively balanced. Thus, the weight of the Alliance between the Save Romania Union and the Plus party increases in the future government. Former EU Commissioner and former Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos has already asked that Ludovic Orban is not nominated for prime minister. The ball is now in the hands of President Iohannis. Everyone is waiting for with an interest who will receive the mandate to build the new cabinet. The election results are, in a sense, a blow to President Iohannis’ perception of Romanian politics. The forces close to him will have a majority, but this majority will be relatively modest.
And here may be the place to ask if it can already be predicted what the future governing coalition might be? Would right-wing or left-wing parties join it?
The outlines of the future coalition are relatively clear, because despite the success of the Social Democrats, no one wants to form a coalition with them. USR-Plus refuses to enter into relations with it. The new AUR party rejects a coalition with any major party. The future majority is expected to consist of deputies from the PNL, USR-Plus and the Hungarian minority party.
233 votes are needed for a majority in parliament. The coalition I described would have 244 votes, and if the votes of the representatives of the minorities who traditionally support the state power are added, it will reach 261 votes. In Romanian politics, parliamentarians often change their party loyalties in parliament. In addition, this low turnout (below 32%) means that a large proportion of voters remain unrepresented in parliament and, in the event of extreme and unacceptable measures, could take extra-parliamentary action, protests or the creation of new parties.
The surprise of these elections is the Alliance for the Union of Romanians, which is an extreme right-wing party. Why were you analysts surprised by the results of this party? Had it shown before the vote that it had little chance of being represented in parliament?
Not only analysts, but also ordinary Romanians were surprised because this party received between 8% and 9%, and until Sunday evening many Romanians had not even heard of it. That is, many have doubts that this party is a product of a political engineering, as we know that in the Bulgarian parliamentary elections a small party very often appears that attracts the votes of the dissatisfied and declares itself against the status quo. AUR is an abbreviation of the Alliance for the Union of Romanians, but as an abbreviation it also means gold, which can be a reference to the golden age of Greater Romania (in the times between the two world wars). It is a party of the unionists in Romania, of the people who respect the religious traditions, the traditional family, they oppose neo-Marxism, they are patriots and nationalists. The Romanians I am talking about believe that the existence of this party is a challenge to President Klaus Iohannis. We need to see if its criticism of the country’s pro-European elites will be not only cultural but also economic, if, for example, in the case of the introduction of measures that affect the income and interests of the masses, the party will oppose these measures. Also, would support for AUR jump if the future government introduces antisocial measures? This is a young party that has not yet passed the test of politics.
Let’s talk about public opinion. Will the expectations of the people of the country be justified when they elect a government to deal with the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis? Seeing what is happening so far, do you think people’s attitudes will be justified?
In my opinion, attitudes are most clearly seen in elections. Assuming that the Romanian voter is a united person, he, on the one hand, supported the right-wing parties. This is important because they are pro-European and ensure the receipt of European funds. Romania must receive over 30 billion euros in the recovery and resilience program. These funds are vital to both the economy and the health care system. The Romanian voter gives these parties confidence that they must lead the country.
But on the other hand, the Romanian voter warns or shows reluctance. The reasons may be different. For example, the closure of markets in November 2020 caused dissatisfaction in Romanian society. There was a fire in the COVID-19 compartment of the hospital in Piatra Neamț, which led to victims. That is, the government, the right-wing and pro-European parties are not perfect. There are reasons why a significant proportion of Romanian voters do not fully trust these forces, in a moment when society must rely on someone to act as an expert, and politics has a tendency to freeze.
It remains to be seen whether Romanians’ expectations will be met by their new government. I commented on the results of the parliamentary elections held yesterday in Romania together with my colleague Vladimir Mitev – the creator of the blog for news from Bulgaria and Romania “Friendship Bridge” and editor in the Romanian section of the site “Barricade”.
Photo: Klaus Iohannis (source: The European People’s Party, CC BY 2.0, via Wikipedia Commons)
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