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INTERVIEW - Romanian elections to bring stability but no political will for reform – analyst

INTERVIEW - Romanian elections to bring stability but no political will for reform – analyst Mircea Cosea Author (mirceacosea.eu) License: all rights reserved.

BUCHAREST (Romania), November 21 (SeeNews) - The Social Democrats, Liberals and a Hungarian minority party will be the winners of next month's general regular elections in Romania, thus restoring a traditional configuration that will ensure political stability but will lack reform zeal, according to a local analyst.

Over the past two decades, Romania's political stage has been dominated by two main actors - left-wing Social Democratic Party (PSD) and centre-right National Liberal Party (PNL). Currently, PSD is the biggest political force in Romania's parliament with 194 of 512 seats, followed by PNL with 165 seats. Centre-left National Union for Romania's Progress (UNPR), which allied with centre-right Popular Movement Party (PMP) in July, follows with 24 seats.

„I think that the confidence vote will be obtained [by the future government] under any circumstances, as the MPs who were recently voted into office will be keen to avoid new elections," Mircea Cosea, a political and economic analyst and university professor, told SeeNews in an e-mailed interview.

Following next month's elections, the president must name a prime minister, who will then propose a government list. Both the prime minister and his cabinet must be approved by newly elected MP's in a vote of confidence. MPs can reject a proposed government up to three times before the president decides to dissolve parliament and call new elections.

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.

Out of 588 MPs originally elected in 2012, 512 remain in their seats, after many of the others were indicted on charges of corruption or abuse of office by Romania’s anti-corruption watchdog DNA and had to end their mandates.

“The vote on lists favours better represented and structured political parties in the territory,” Cosea opined, predicting the winners will be PSD, PNL and the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR).

The newly created nationalist party Our Aliance Romania (ANR), centre-right opposition Liberal-Democrat Alliance (ALDE), centre-right Popular Movement Party (PMP) and far-right United Romania Party (PRU) will follow with fewer votes won.

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 PNL and 11% would back center-wing Save Romania Union (USR) party, which is not represented in the current parliament.

USR was initially just a civic organisation named Save Bucharest Union dedicated to improving Romania's capital Bucharest management. USR turned into a party just a year ago and is one of the youngest parties in the Romanian political landscape. Its central figure is civic activist Nicusor Dan, which ran for Bucharest city hall in 2016 and came in second with 30.52% of votes, after PSD's Gabriela Vranceanu Firea.

The next parties likely to enter the parliament, according to the poll, are UDMR with 5.4%, ALDE with 5.2% and PMP with 5%. 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%.

Concerning the future prime minister, a poll commissioned by PNL in October and conducted by Political Rating Agency, ARP showed that 23% of Romanians would like to see ex-PSD leader Victor Ponta in this position, while 22% would prefer current technocrat head of government Dacian Ciolos.

Some 6% want Calin Popescu Tariceanu, ALDE leader and current head of the Senate, to be the next prime minister, according to the poll. The ARP poll, for which 1170 people were interviewed, has a margin of error of +/-2.9%.

At the last parliamentary elections held on December 9, 2012, Ponta's Social Liberal Union (USL) won absolute majority in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Voter turnover was 41.7%.

The parliamentary elections follow a year in office of a technocratic government whose central figure is prime minister Dacian Ciolos, a former European agriculture commissioner who has no party affiliation.

A possible political compromise could pave the way for president Klaus Iohannis to negotiate for the keeping of Ciolos as head of the new government after the vote, Mircea Cosea opined. However, Iohannis has repeatedly said that Romania must have a new government led by a political figure and has said that he will not name an independent.

Ciolos replaced Victor Ponta as prime minister in November when thousands rallied in the streets of Bucharest with demands that a government of experts be set up. Street pressure for a new government was very high after a fire in a night club in Bucharest claimed 64 lives.

Ciolos has persistently denied any plans to get involved in party politics, although he accepted to be PNL’s designated candidate for prime-minister without joining the party.

According to Cosea, the year of technocratic government was a year of 'non-government' that created a required break necessary for the restarting of the political configuration in order to prepare the conditions for the strengthening of the position of president Iohannis to obtain a second mandate in 2019.

„The technocratic government has failed to complete any project inherited from the previous government or any project it has launched itself," Cosea said. "I can’t even give it a rating.”

The outcome of the elections is unlikely to alter the position of Romania's foreign partners towards the country, the analyst opined.

"Romania’s place and role in the geopolitical system are already established. For the strategic partnership with the US, a result that maintains a greater interest in NATO than in the EU will be important. For the relations with the EU, a result which will tick the balance in favour of the German-French leadership will be important,” said Cosea, who is a professor at the Faculty of General Economics at the Academy of Economic Studies, ASE.

Although new elections usually bring a new hope for the better, Cosea thinks that the outcome of the vote will not mean much for Romanians, as improvement to their standard of living no longer depends on ideology but on political courage to launch reforms which are 'bad' from a budgetary point of view.

„I do not think the majority which will be created - whatever that will be - is going to have the political will to do so. Moreover, PSD's and PNL's programmes are most relevant to this case, as both parties are proposing measures which stand on the verge of economic utopia."

Ahead of December vote, Romania's current parliament, in which PSD holds majority of seats, approved a 15% wage hike in the education and healthcare sectors - a move which the technocratic government challenged in the Constitutional Court. Including other bonuses that would apply, the wage hikes will cost the government budget 4.9 billion lei ($1.2 billion/ 1.08 billion euro), or 0.6% of GDP, in additional expenditure, according to finance ministry estimates.

Several banks such as ING and Erste Group, global rating agencies Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's as well as the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund have warned Romania of the risk of the country being unable to sustain structural deficit below 3% of GDP due to increased expenditure.

Romania's annual economic growth decelerated to 4.4% in the third quarter of 2016 from 6.0% the quarter before on lower consumption and investments, according to a recent flash estimate of the statistics board, INS.

Romania's consolidated budget showed a deficit equivalent to 0.49% of the projected 2016 GDP in the first nine months. The country targets a consolidated budget gap equivalent to 2.95% of GDP on a cash basis in 2016, below the 3% EU ceiling. Romania posted a consolidated budget deficit of 1.47% of GDP in 2015, below the 1.85% limit set in the government's fiscal strategy for that year.

(1 euro = 4.5145 lei)

 

Source: Liberal Romania Initiative, CCSB

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