Romanians re-elected the Social Democrats (PSD) to power on Sunday (December 11), just over a year since the party’s corruption-tainted former leader Victor Ponta stepped down after the deadly Bucharest nightclub fire.
Here are some questions to consider in light of the result.
Why did Romanians re-elect a party tainted by corruption?
PSD left office in November 2015, after a blaze at Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest killed 64 people, sparking wider protests over corruption.
A new government led by the independent Dacian Julien Cioloș filled the intervening void, but now, just over a year later, PSD is back, after winning close to 46 percent of the vote in Sunday’s parliamentary elections.
Some have questioned how a party tainted by corruption has succeeded in getting nearly half of the vote share.
Sad story – a party headed by a person investigated for corruption wins elections in #Romania.— Doris Manou (@doris_manou) December 11, 2016
#Romania's elections: People easily forgot about the corruption scandals of prevs social governments.
FT</a> <a href="https://t.co/rv6OMbK4KU">https://t.co/rv6OMbK4KU</a></p>— Dr Mario (RomanianRomance) December 11, 2016
“It’s no surprise: the right had no clear strategy, no clear message and no party discipline,” Romanian political analyst Radu Magdin told Euronews. “They only had an ‘independent’ brand ambassador in PM Ciolos, who was pretty hesitant for most of the political campaign. The PSD had all three and they managed to demonise their opponents as being less ‘patriotic’.”
The election result seemingly supports what experts claimed before the election: corruption is not at the top of Romanians’ agenda; they’re more interested in jobs, public services and welfare.
What does the result mean for Romania’s fight against corruption?
The fact Romanians are more interested in job creation and public spending could be down to the country’s progress in fighting graft.
Romania’s National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) says it has helped put scores of MPs, mayors and magistrates on trial over the last two and a half years, while Cioloș’ government has introduced reforms aimed at cutting bureaucracy, a move aimed at reducing the risk of maladministration and corruption.
Valentina-Andreea Dimulescu, a public policy researcher at the Anticorrp project, has told Euronews the success of Cioloș’ reforms will depend on whoever is elected on December 11.
So – what does PSD’s win mean for the fight against corruption?
“DNA is not strong because of Ciolos-related reforms, its efficiency pre-dates his cabinet,” Magdin told Euronews. “What is true is that he did not try to hamper the judicial system, which is great, we continued to be the model in the region as regards fighting corruption.
“As regards future evolution or devolution, it all depends on the instincts of the new parliamentary majority.
“I would say there will be competing forces in the new majority: some MPs may want to curb DNA’s activities, while others may be reluctant in allowing steps that could harm the country’s image.”
Others, however, are not so optimistic.
“The exit polls results mean that we will have a leftist government,” political commentator Mircea Marian told Reuters. “The main problem is that, step by step, very slowly, they will likely change legislation in the anti-corruption field.”
Will the election result change Romania’s position in the EU?
Romania, the bloc’s second poorest state, received 6.5 billion euros from the EU in 2015 and PSD are considered pro-European.
“The socialist party in Romania is one of the most important pillars of the European socialists, in terms of MEPs in the European Parliament,” Dr Cristian Nitoiu, a politics expert from Aston University told Euronews. “They have good relations with policy makers in Washington and they want to be pro-European.”
“Romania remains a staunch US ally,” agreed Magdin. “It will need to be more influential in Europe to secure a successful EU Presidency in 2019.
“Do expect nonetheless a stronger, while constructive, positioning in Brussels, especially as regards budget and deficit flexibility.”
Romania will be hoping for help from Brussels early next year when the European Commission decides whether to continue monitoring Bucharest on its progress in fighting corruption.
What were the surprises of the election?
One of the key surprises was the emergence of the new Union Save Romania party, headed by mathematician and activist Nicușor Dan.
The party, campaigning on an anti-corruption and anti-establishment ticket, is predicted to win around 9.2 percent of the vote.
Another trend, according to Reuters, was younger voters – who took to the streets to protest after the Bucharest nightclub fire last year – not turning out to vote in Sunday’s election, helping PSD,whose traditional voters tend to be older and poorer.
Magdin added that PSD had also won big in urban areas and Transylvania, which is a first for the party.
What will the make up of the new government be?
Magdin says PSD could theoretically govern themselves but are likely to join forces with ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats) for a stronger majority.
So far, so straightforward, but there could be turbulence ahead, according to Magdin.
The more right-leaning president of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, tasked with appointing the country’s next prime minister, could yet throw a spanner in the works.
There are two candidates tipped to be in the running to be Romania’s next prime minister: Vasile Dancu and Liviu Dragnea.
Dragnea is now the favourite, in light of PSD’s excellent election performance, says Magdin, and has more support within the party.
However, the problem is Dragnea’s past: he has a two-year suspended jail sentence for attempting to rig a referendum in 2012.
Magdin told Euronews: “The ball is in the president’s court now, he will probably begin on Monday by inviting parties to consultations to form the new government; in case the PSD insists on Dragnea, the president may refuse and there will be political, and possibly constitutional, conflict.
“If the President gives in, he will be seen as backtracking on his own principles, namely the integrity issue.
“There may be a surprise candidate, neither Dancu or Dragnea, who can meet both PSD’s support and the president’s acceptance.
“Politically, time – just like the election score – is in PSD’s advantage.
“These elections are also a political defeat for the president, whose term in power ends in 2019.”