INTERVIEW - Romanian political parties in leadership crisis ahead of elections

INTERVIEW - Romanian political parties in leadership crisis ahead of elections Antonio Momoc

BUCHAREST (Romania), December 8 (SeeNews) - Romanian political parties are going through a leadership crisis ahead of general elections on Sunday, having failed to boost their appeal among voters through reform during a year of technocrat government, a local political communications expert says.

Over the past ten years, corruption scandals involving politicians and the fight of prosecutors against graft have dominated Romania's political landscape.

"Jaded people are not only the result of theft and grand corruption, but also of the lack of interest among politicians towards the social problems of ordinary people," political communications expert and university professor Antonio Momoc told SeeNews in an e-mailed interview. "Also, they are the result of the inability of those who administrate Romania to build highways, schools, hospitals and to increase the standard of living and education."

Only in 2015, Romania's national anti-corruption authority DNA pressed charges against a record-high 1,250 people, sending to trial five ministers, 16 MPs and five senators. Furthermore, DNA seized 431 million euro ($473 million) under precautionary measures.

"The fact that the present leaders of major parties have problems with justice, with attracting honest citizens to their party lists and with attracting voters shows their level of incompetence," Momoc opined.

Over the past two decades, Romania's political stage has been dominated by two protagonists - left-wing Social Democratic Party (PSD) and centre-right National Liberal Party (PNL). Both have had their leaders and members involved in corruption scandals.

"On one side, PSD made almost no changes to its structure, and more than this, it ignored and cancelled its own integrity criteria. On the other side, PNL’s stuttering on names that will be on its list of candidates for the parliamentary elections shows the party's inability to reform itself from within," the analyst added.

In September 2015, DNA indicted ex-prime minister and former PSD leader Victor Ponta on charges of forgery, complicity in tax evasion and money laundering. Ponta, who became prime minister in 2012, allegedly committed the crimes from 2007 through 2011 while working as a lawyer. In November 2015, Ponta stepped down after thousands rallied in the streets of Bucharest with demands that a government of experts be set up. Ponta was replaced by technocrat prime minister and ex-agriculture EU commissioner Dacian Ciolos, who is currently the head of government.

For its part, 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, in compliance with PNL's integrity criteria enforced at end-2015.

Among the veterans stands the small centre-right Save Romania Union (USR) party, which is not represented in the current parliament and has managed to collect the 200,000 signatures needed to participate in the elections. Credited with the third place after PSD and PNL in a recent opinion poll, USR is seen as a clean political entity by young and educated voters.

According to the survey conducted by Avangarde polling agency at the beginning of December, PSD will come in first with 43% of the votes, followed by PNL with 27%, USR with 8% and centre-right Liberal-Democrat Alliance (ALDE) with 6%.

Centre-right Popular Movement Party (PMP) will win 5% of the votes and the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) will get 5%, too.

Far-right United Romania Party (PRU) and Our Aliance Romania (ANR) have each received support below the 5% threshold needed to enter parliament. The Avangarde poll, in which 1,000 eligible voters were interviewed nationwide, has a margin of error of +/-3.1%.

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

According to Momoc, new capable and honest political figures can only emerge from the civil society, provided that mainstream parties will no longer deny them access by enforcing laws that put unrealistically high thresholds for the number of signatures needed to run or set financial requirements that are impossible to meet.

"I do not think that we all need to make politics and that is why I can understand some of my students who are not interested in politics. But I think that those who want to make politics should not be prevented to do so but rather encouraged to serve the public interest," said Momoc, who is a PhD Associate Professor at the Faculty of Journalism and Communication Sciences at the University of Bucharest, teaching classes of public communication, political sciences, new media, online communication and populism, political marketing and electoral advertising.

However, the number of people who want a career in politics is limited also by the stiff alienating language used by Romanian politicians over the past 25 years that scares away the brainy civil society and business people, he added.

This behaviour alienates voters, as low turnout at Romanian election shows. 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.

"The biggest problem of Romanian politicians is their inability to understand their limits, to realize their own ignorance, the inability to grasp the need for improvement and development of the existing human resources in their parties and in public administration. If they would do this, the communication with the electorate would improve," Momoc said.

For this reason people like president Klaus Iohannis and Dacian Ciolos are popular - because they are very different from demagogue politicians to whom Romanians are accustomed, Momoc added.

In November 2014, former mayor of Sibiu city and ex-PNL member Klaus Iohannis won a surprise victory in Romania's presidential elections, defeating Victor Ponta. Iohannis received 54.5% of the votes.

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.

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 the current technocrat head of government Dacian Ciolos. The ARP poll, in which 1170 people were interviewed, has a margin of error of +/-2.9%.

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