From the outset, the Romanian local elections have been overshadowed by scandal. The first round has now been completed and the players for the second round are gathering momentum.
Local election results
The official local election results were announced on Thursday 8 June, four days after votes were cast. Unsurprisingly, they returned a majority of Party of Social Democracy (PDSR) candidates, leaving the parties of the ruling coalition lagging far behind.
The PDSR claimed 26.3 per cent of mayoralties, 24.7 per cent of local councillor posts and 26.1 per cent of county councillor posts, placing them well ahead of the field. Second place was taken by the Democratic Party (PD) who, under the leadership of Petre Roman, gained 12.9 per cent of mayoralties, 10.6 per cent of local councillors and 9.9 per cent of county councillors. The Alliance for Romania Party (ApR) came in third with 9.3 per cent of mayors, 8.7 per cent of local councillors and eight per cent of county councillors. (Data from RFE/RL, 8 June 2000)
In comparison with the rising dominance of the PDSR, the ruling Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) saw its power base crumble as it lost control of five of the six large towns. Timişoara, however, remained faithful. Despite this victory, the CDR came in a poor fifth behind the National Liberal Party (PNL). The Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) received their "usual" 7.3 percent of the vote.
Victory for the PDSR is clear. However, with less than a quarter of votes, support fell short of their predictions. As alliances are forged for the second ballot and political manoeuvring disperses the vote, it is possible that the PDSR will fail to achieve greater support during the second-round of the elections.
Perhaps the most surprising victory was seized by the PD, who seem likely to reject their previous coalition partners and join a left-wing alliance with the PDSR and ApR after the general elections in November.
Also of great surprise was the threat posed by Péter Eckstein-Kovács of the UDMR against the ever-popular nationalist mayor of Cluj, Gheorghe Funar. Eckstein-Kovács, as Minister for Minorities, would have provided strong opposition against Funar, who has already enjoyed a long stay in office. However, in a political move, Eckstein-Kovács withdrew from the run-off in favour of the third place CDR candidate, Serban Radulescu. Mediafax reported on 8 June 2000 that Eckstein-Kovács's decision was an attempt "to unite all forces opposed to Funar and avoid having the split along ethnic lines."
In Bucharest, the CDR have been pushed out of the running with the second ballot being fought between PDSR candidate, Sorin Oprescu, and Democrat Traian Băsescu. According to the Central Electoral Bureau (BEC), Oprescu received 41.6 per cent of the vote whilst Băsescu received 17.8 per cent. CDR candidate Calin Catalin Chiriţa came third in a close-run battle with Băsescu. Chiriţa gained 16.53 per cent of the votes. (Nine o'clock, 8 June 2000)
Since election day on 4 June 2000, complaints have been bandied about criticising the organisational skills of the BEC. Their inability to officially confirm election results until four days after voting is merely one example of their inefficiencies.
Low turnout prompted the BEC to extend voting hours from nine o'clock in the evening until midnight. The result was confusion. The last minute decision meant that some polling stations had already closed and sealed their ballot boxes only to be told to reopen them again.
In Bucharest, 40 per cent of polling stations had closed by eleven o'clock. The result was non-conformity. Some stations remained open while others closed. Statistics on voting patterns will therefore be unreliable. However, the low turnout could mean that the figures have not been greatly disturbed.
Absenteeism can be the result of many causes: inability to vote, lack of political awareness, forgetfulness or nice weather. However, in this case absenteeism is more likely to reflect the opinion of society towards its political figures.
In Romania, the past decade has seen a worsening economic situation and growing political instability. Refusal to vote exemplifies the disappointment that Romanians feel towards the politics and administrations of the last ten years. To cast a vote would symbolise acceptance of the ruling parties, parties that Romanians are beginning to believe have let them down.
Adding to the dispassionate opinion of politics and politicians are the recent scandals that have clouded the local election campaign. Many political characters have lost their legitimacy and can longer be trusted by the Romanian people. The Red Hot-Line (See article in CER 13), the Costea scandal (See article in CER 20) and the National Investment Fund (FNI) scandal (See last week's news review for Romania)) have all, in some way, discredited leading politicians and have raised scepticism over their ability to rule.
The series of devastating scandals has left the electorate demoralised and confused. Rather than vote
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Precedent for general elections
The local elections are the precursor to the general elections scheduled for November. If the local elections provide any indication of voting patterns, the PDSR will return to office, leaving the lessons and memories of the past forgotten. However, the question remains whether the general elections will be dogged by disorganisation, absenteeism and scandal.
Catherine Lovatt, 12 June 2000