INTERVIEW - Most Romanians remain undecided ahead of Dec 11 vote

INTERVIEW - Most Romanians remain undecided ahead of Dec 11 vote Bruno Stefan

BUCHAREST (Romania), November 22 (SeeNews) - Most Romanians have not decided whom they will vote for at the regular general election next month, as some of them resent front-running left-wing Social Democratic Party (PSD), while right-wing parties do not know how to win them over, a Romanian sociologist said.

Romanians' voting intentions have not yet crystallized, Bruno Stefan told SeeNews in an emailed interview.

By analyzing the results of recent opinion polls one can see that more than half of eligible voters in the country plus the diaspora, or over 70% of citizens with voting rights, have not decided where to put the stamp on December 11.

“We can see that they have a system of values, they have expectations, but they can not identify a party to meet their expectations. Although most of the undecided hate the left wing and PSD, the right wing parties do not know how to attract them. That is because they do not know them and do not make an effort to find solutions to their problems,” said Bruno Stefan.

In 1999, Stefan founded Bucharest-based Sociological Research Bureau, BCS, an organisation which conducts polls and drafts analyses on the main trends in Romanian society.

A low voter turnover at elections in Romania is not uncommon. At the parliamentary elections in 2012, more than half of citizens with voting rights did not vote. In 2008, just 39.2% of Romanians cast ballots - the lowest turnout since 1989.

A year ago, when the most massive street protests since the bloody overthrow of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausecu led to the replacement of prime minister and PSD leader Victor Ponta with technocrat head of government Dacian Ciolos, the intention to vote for PSD was very low.

Not any more, though, Bruno Stefan said. 

The technocratic government led by Ciolos has reinforced the perception in a part of society that experts with no party affiliation are not better politicians. Consequently, the intention to vote for PSD soared in the spring and keeps growing slightly even now.

A poll commissioned by civic organisation Liberal Romania Initiative in mid-November and conducted by Sociological Research and Branding Company, CCSB, showed that 40% of Romanians would vote for PSD, 27.2% would support National Liberal Party (PNL) and 11% would back center-wing Save Romania Union (USR) party, which is not represented in the current parliament, if elections were held now.

The next parties likely to enter parliament, according to the poll, are Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) with 5.4%, centre-right opposition Liberal-Democrat Alliance (ALDE) with 5.2% and centre-right Popular Movement Party (PMP) with 5%. Far-right United Romania Party (PRU) and others have each received support below the 5% threshold needed to enter the parliament. The CCSB poll, in which 1,261 eligible voters were interviewed nationwide, has a margin of error of +/-3%.

“By ignoring the need for effective communication with the help of specialists, those in the technocrat government were the target of a denigration campaign carried out by PSD leaders, who had this way recovered lost percentage points and, much more than that, transformed a part of right-wing voters into absentees,” Stefan opined.

The sociologist pointed out that PSD won the local elections amidst low turnout, as their tactics was to sow disgust at politics among voters.

“This continues to work and the liberals are ignoring it,” Stefan added. In June 2016, PSD won local elections with a 37.58% score, followed by PNL with 31.93% and ALDE with 6.31%.

"Right-wing voters see that liberals have gone away from them and then they choose not to vote. Leftist voters are quite determined to vote, particularly after they found in Gabriela Firea the leader they had missed since PSD founder Ion Iliescu left the political scene,” said Stefan.

Gabriela Firea is a former journalist who joined PSD in 2012 and won the 2016 elections for Bucharest mayor with 42.97% of votes.

PNL suffered a massive image blow when at the end of September its co-leader Vasile Blaga was indicted on charges of influence peddling and had to resign, according to PNL's integrity criteria enforced at end-2015.

At the December 11 elections, Romanians will vote on lists compiled by political parties in a proportional representation system last used in 2004, as opposed to uni-nominal majority voting.

Also, following recent legislative amendments, the number of MPs in the next parliament will decrease to 466 from 588 elected in 2012.  Another premiere is that Romanians abroad will be able to vote by sending their ballots through the postal office. Two years ago Romania's presidential elections were marred by poor organisation of voting abroad as the insufficient number of polling stations left many people unable to cast a vote.

The diaspora, Bruno Stefan said, will play an insignificant role in the elections, because no matter how many Romanians abroad vote, they choose only a small number of deputies and senators.

In his opinion, the battle will be fought over domestic voters and the first five parties to reach the finish line will be PSD, PNL, USR, ALDE and UDMR. PMP and newly created nationalist party Our Aliance Romania (ANR) will struggle to get the minimum of 5% of the votes to enter parliament, said Stefan, who is also a sociology lector at Bucharest Polytechnic University.

“PSD will count on voters in rural areas, small towns and on state employees. Liberal voters will rely on people with secondary and higher education in large and medium cities and particularly in Transylvania. USR will count on voters with higher education in big cities. ALDE has a pool of people in rural areas, with secondary and higher education in communes and villages and cities of the Old Kingdom [southern, eastern and part of northern Romania]. UDMR relies on the ethnic Hungarian voters”, he added.

Traditionally, people in rural areas are considered to be easy to manipulate because of their precarious economic status but there are numerous ways to help reduce the cleavage between the continuously expanding urban area and the largely self-subsistent and deserted rural areas, Bruno Stefan said. Some 44% of Romanians live in rural areas, while the rest live in urban ones, according to data from the statistical office INS.

“The solution is to speed up roadworks. When distances between cities will be reduced, people will repopulate rural areas. Another solution would be the country's administrative-territorial reorganization, by merging localities around the centres of development," Bruno Stefan opined.

According to Romania's constitution, the country's territory is divided into communes, towns and counties. A commune is the lowest level of administrative division in Romania.

Out of more than 3,200 communes less than 1,000 should remain, as crumbling budgets and shrinking territories will further accentuate the differences between villages and cities, Stefan said.

"In Romania there are more than 500 communes that can sustain themselves from the taxes they collect. The others must disappear as independent administrative units and must be absorbed by larger and richer administrative units.”

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