Opinion polls ahead of the December 9 general election in Romania pointed towards an overwhelming win for the ruling coalition, which is set to strengthen its grip on the country’s bicameral parliament and further weaken president Traian Basescu, the coalition’s main political rival.
Three polls released in the final week of the campaign gave the Social-Liberal Union (USL) between 57 per cent and 62 per cent of the vote. The Right Romania Alliance (ARD), built around Basescu’s centre-right Democrat-Liberals, was only credited with 16-17 per cent, marginally higher than the populist People’s Party, founded last year by TV presenter Dan Diaconescu.
USL, a formal coalition of three parties united in their opposition to Basescu, despite differing political ideologies – the Social-Democrats of prime minister Victor Ponta, centre-right National-Liberals led by Crin Antonescu and Conservatives of media tycoon (and former communist-era state security collaborator) Dan Voiculescu – could win an even bigger majority than what the polls are showing, given Romania’s first-past-the-post voting system.
At local elections in May, USL won the county council elections in all but five of 41 counties, as well as capital Bucharest, long considered a stronghold of rightist parties.
A win for the coalition would likely lead to continued clashes with Basescu, whom USL tried unsuccessfully to impeach in summer claiming that he overstepped his authority – a recall referendum saw more than 86 per cent voting in favour, but it fell short of the necessary 50 per cent threshold needed to be considered valid, with Basescu calling on his supporters to boycott the vote.
Basescu was supported at that time by EU officials, which sharply criticised the government and ruling majority for attempting to marginalise the constitutional court, but he is unlikely to receive similar support if he initiates hostilities after the election by nominating any USL politician other than Ponta as the next prime minister.
Despite its strong numbers in opinion polls, the People’s Party, which combines nationalist rhetoric with populist (and economically dubious) left-wing electoral promises, is not expected to mount a serious challenge despite a blustery campaign. The ethnic Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania is expected to win more seats because of the number of electoral colleges where Hungarians are a majority of the population.
A total of 470 seats are stake – 315 in the lower house, the chamber of deputies (which will be joined by 18 MPs that will take seats set aside for ethnic minorities), and 137 in the upper house, the senate.
A total of 18.25 million people are eligible to vote in Romania itself, but the country’s electoral authority did not give an estimate for how many people will vote outside Romania.
A total of six electoral colleges (four for the lower house and two for the senate) have been created for the diaspora – meaning that at least 320 000 eligible voters are thought to reside outside the country, since each senate seat requires at least 160 000 voters (70 000 for a lower house seat), under Romanian law. Conservative estimates, however, put the number of Romanians living outside the country at more than 500 000.
(The Parliament Palace, built in the 1980s on the order of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, has housed the lower house of parliament since 1994 and the senate since 2004. Photo: George M. Groutas/flickr.com)