Romania’s foreign minister Teodor Melescanu resigned on November 18, only eight days after his appointment, following the large outcry over the poor organisation of voting abroad in the presidential election run-off on November 16.
Melescanu, who resigned as head of Romania’s foreign intelligence service to run for president and received 1.1 per cent in the first round, was appointed foreign minister on November 10, after the resignation of Titus Corlatean, stepped down saying that he could not authorise opening new polling stations abroad in breach of the law, which would give legal grounds to challenge the outcome of the election.
High expatriate turnout in the first round of the election resulted in long queues in a number of major European cities, where some people waited for hours to cast their ballots and thousands were unable to do so before voting stations closed.
After protests in several Romanian cities, Corlatean resigned and the foreign ministry said that it would add staff, voting stamps and booths to speed up voting abroad, but refused to consider extending voting times or add new voting stations.
Announcing his resignation, Melescanu said that he apologised to the expatriates who were unable to vote, but blamed the “rigid legislative framework” for it. He said that the ministry made every effort in the week before the run-off to solve the problems from the first round of the election.
Melescanu travelled to Paris on the day of the run-off to showcase that the issues had been taken care of, but had to return to Bucharest to cast his ballot. Before that, he angered expats by suggesting that in order to avoid queuing up in Paris, they should travel to the next closest voting station – in Nancy, about 385km by car from the French capital city.
Despite increased administrative capacity, turnout in the run-off was even higher, with a record 379 000 expats casting a ballot, but thousands more unable to do so. In some cities, people queued up overnight to vote, while some had to wait more than 10 hours, often in miserable weather, to vote. In some cities – Paris, Munich and Turin – local riot police were called in, with tear gas used in Turin to disperse the angry crowd.
Calls to extend the voting time, which could have been done by an emergency government ordinance, from outgoing president Traian Basescu and opposition candidate Klaus Iohannis went unheeded.
In the aftermath of the run-off, several Romanian ambassadors said that they had made repeated requests, in some cases going back to the summer, asking the foreign ministry to authorise opening new voting stations, but were denied each time.
Critics of the social-democrat government of prime minister Victor Ponta – who lost the run-off to Iohannis by a large margin – have accused the cabinet of intentionally sabotaging the voting abroad, given the strong rightist voting preference of expats (Iohannis won 86.9 per cent of the votes cast abroad, with 340 000 votes versus 39 000 for Ponta). In some countries, to keep the same number of polling stations, the foreign ministry closed stations in areas with large Romanian communities, opening new ones in places with much a much smaller number of expats, reports said.
(Teodor Melescanu announces his resignation at a news conference on November 18 2014. Photo: mae.ro)