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Bucharest
February 26, 2021
POLITICS

Election in chaos – thousands in the Diaspora unable to vote: Authorities take steps to improve the vote for the runoff, promise heads will fall

Impressive queues of thousands of Romanians, lined up along hundreds of metres, nerves, shouting and protests. They chanted ‘We want to vote!’, ‘We are not leaving home!’ and some sang the national anthem ‘Wake up, Romanian!’ That was the unbelievable picture of most polling stations in the countries with largest Romanian communities on Sunday. They all had a common purpose: elect their president. Although some even waited for as long as six hours, many never made it to the ballot box and, in spite of insistent demands that the opening hours be extended, the doors were slammed in their faces. The voting procedure abroad was made difficult by the fact that each voter had to fill in an ‘antifraud’ form with his/her personal data and declare that he/she had not voted and would not vote someplace else. The longest queues were formed in polling stations in New York, Brussels, Rome, Turin, Munich, Stuttgart, Bern, Valencia, Stockholm, Paris, The Hague, Luxemburg, Vienna, Bonn, Ikast, London, Coslada, Bologna, but also Chisinau.
Apart from the delays caused by the procedure of filling in the special forms, the voting itself was also hampered by the small number of polling stations, definitely not tailored to the size of Romanian communities living in those countries. Some of the voters also complained about the small number of voting seals available.
Hundreds protest in the country and abroad
The biggest issues were reported at the Romanian Embassy in Paris, where the special law enforcing troops had to step in. Minutes before the closing of the voting process, at the entrance into Rue de l’Exposition, where the Romanian Embassy as well as the Romanian Cultural Institute are located, there were several hundreds of people who had been waiting for hours in order to vote. Some of them forced their way into the Embassy, hoping that, as long as they were inside, they would be allowed to vote. Ambassador Bogdan Mazuru came out to talk to the crowd only after an hour. After almost two hours of negotiations, the voters started to leave the premises after signing a petition accusing the authorities of violating their rights. In London, over 1,000 Romanians who could not vote in the three polling stations also protested after the closing of the voting process in front of the Embassy and ICR headquarters, monitored by the Police.
Once the pictures showing the huge queues of Romanians waiting to vote abroad were published in the mass-media, hundreds of people gathered in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bucharest, in front of the Prefecture in Cluj-Napoca, as well as in Alba Iulia to express their solidarity with the Romanians in the Diaspora, chanting ‘They want to vote, let them vote!’, ‘Resignation!’, ‘We are not leaving here until they vote!’ The authorities however refused to extend the opening hours at the polling stations that closed at 21:00, Romanian time. According to data processed by the Central Electoral Bureau, 161,054 Romanians were able to vote in the first round of the presidential election abroad. In the 2009 presidential election, a total of 147,754 Romanian citizens voted.
President Traian Basescu: ‘Minister of foreign affairs must resign’
President Traian Basescu issued a statement immediately after the closing of the voting on Sunday, urging the resignation of Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean and Minister Bogdan Stanoevici because of ‘the serious flaws recorded in the organisation of the electoral process at the polling stations abroad, where the necessary supplies and staff were not provided’. Traian Basescu also noted ‘the defective provision of affidavit forms in many polling stations in the country’, which ‘prevented the Romanian citizens from exercising their constitutional right to elect their president’. ‘Under these conditions, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Titus Corlatean, and the Minister delegate for Romanian abroad, Mr. Bogdan Stanoevici, ought to resign’, the president’s communiqué further read.
The Federation of Associations of Romanians in Europe (FADERE) also demanded the resignation of the Foreign Minister, Titus Corlatean. ‘In spite of the fact that we asked the Foreign Ministry to double the number of polling stations in the Diaspora, they disregarded our request and huge lines were formed at all polling stations abroad, people had to wait between two and four hours and many actually gave up voting. We demand that the Foreign Minister, Titus Corlatean, should resign for the poor organisation of this election’, FADERE officials state in a release issued on Sunday.
A similar reaction also came from the Institute for Public Policies (IPP), who called upon political parties to urgently change electoral legislation to permit distance voting for Romanians based abroad and offered to provide ‘free legal assistance’ to any Romanian living abroad who wanted to sue the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Prime Minister Victor Ponta: ‘No Romanian citizen who wants to vote will be left out of the polling station’
Prime Minister Victor Ponta said at the Foreign Ministry yesterday that Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean and the heads of the Ministry would pay with their offices if a single Romanian was unable to vote on the evening of 16 November, in the runoff presidential election, abroad. At the same time, he noted that measures would be taken so that the affidavit could be downloaded and people bring it already filled in to the polling station. ‘The minister and the heads of MAE guarantee with their positions that no Romanian citizen who will want to vote will be left out of the polling stations. Every Romanian citizen must be able to exercise his/her voting right. As we managed to organise the vote at over 18,000 polling stations in the country, we will do the same in the Diaspora’, Ponta said, He also noted that the turnout in some regions abroad was a lot higher than previously and that the special procedure made the process difficult. ‘It is very clear that the voting procedure took a lot of the time. It is a procedure designed to prevent electoral fraud. An average time of 6-7-10 minutes led to the overcrowding towards the end of the day’, said the PM. ‘All measures to be decided by BEC tomorrow will have the Government’s financial and logistic support. We will allocate from the contingency fund all the money needed for adding more booths and hiring more personnel. On Friday I have called to Bucharest our ambassadors and consuls in France, Germany, Great Britain, Austria and R. Moldova. If they identify any irregularities, they should immediately replace all polling station presidents. We will make available to MAE everything they will need for the affidavit to be downloadable online’, Ponta explained.
Prime Minister Victor Ponta, voiced regret late Sunday night after polls closing that there had remained Romanians outside the country’s borders who had not been able to vote. ‘Those who voted on supplementary lists – I also voted on a supplementary list – must fill in a form, which is then scanned, so that if one goes in an hour to vote in another place with the same personal identification number, they immediately appear in the system. This means there was more bureaucracy – I filled in by hand the personal identification number, all the other things, but unlike 2009, when Traian Basescu won the president’s seat after losing the elections in the country, by stealing the votes in the diaspora, this time around nobody will steal a single vote.’
Titus Corlatean: ‘Anti-fraud voting procedure took up time’
Foreign Affairs Minister Titus Corlatean added that the affidavit would be possible to download on the internet and signed at the polling station, in front of the members of the commission. ‘In spite of all accusations, we, the offices of the poling stations in those places actually processed more voters than in 2009. Nothing was missing, all ballots were there, no seals or voting ballots were missing. However, the procedure took longer. The anti-fraud voting procedure took up time’, Titus Corlatean said. The foreign minister gave the example of New York and London where ‘the people from MAE were present, but the representatives of political parties did not show’.  The Foreign Affairs Minister, Titus Corlatean on Sunday night said that several Romanian embassies, the one in London among them have requested an extension of the voting process, but the Central Electoral Bureau (BEC) decided to deny it.
“There were a few demands from some embassies, the one in London included to extend the voting schedule. The BEC, in accordance with the law decided not to do that and we took note of its decision. It’s BEC’s decision and I won’t criticise it,” Corlatean told private tv channel Antena 3.
Foreign press: Election ‘ends in chaos’
The scandal encompassing the first round of the presidential election was highlighted in the foreign press too. ‘Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’ (FAZ) wrote that Romanians living abroad had been ‘prevented’ from voting. ‘Thousands of voters protested in numerous cities across Europe after trying to vote to no avail’, German publication ‘Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’ states, noting that the first round of the presidential election in Romania ‘ended in chaos’. The publication says that, at the Romanian Consulate in Munich, ‘at noon, the waiting time was over five hours’ whiles ‘in Turn only one polling station was made available to 70,000 citizens with voting rights’. The German journalists also report that, in London or Paris, the people who had to wait in line to vote ended up protesting against the Government and the candidate Victor Ponta shouting ‘Down with Ponta!’, ‘Down with communism!’ The author of the article notes the Romanian Government was slammed for trying to prevent Romanians in the Diaspora from voting as they were known to prefer the main opponent of the prime minister. ‘The Central Electoral Bureau declined the request made by several candidates in the presidential election to extend the voting hours abroad with one hour’, FAZ notes. AFP also reports on the incidents at some of the polling stations abroad, especially Paris, London and Vienna, where the voters had to wait in line to be able to vote and reminded that, in 2009, the current Romanian President, Traian Basescu, won his second term thanks to the votes collected from the Diaspora.
ABC News wrote about the Romanian protests in London, Paris and Munich because they had to wait for hours in line to vote, and many never made it. ‘Approximately 100 people gathered in front of the Foreign Ministry in Bucharest to protest’, the journalists say.
Reuters also stated that numerous Romanians abroad were unable to cast their vote on Sunday because of the fact that the polling stations had run out of ballots, which generated protests in front of the Foreign Ministry in Bucharest. Many also denounced the fact that they had to queue in order to vote and the spirits ignited in front of the Romanian Embassy in Paris, who sought the assistance of the French Police. As a matter of fact, ex-tennis player Ion Tiriac chose to fly to Romania as he was unable to vote in Paris because of the queues, Reuters also notes.
Bloomberg, in turn, notes that the Romanian voters in Paris tried to force their way into the Romanian Embassy to vote, having waited several hours in queues. The journalists add people were still waiting in line in Vienna and London after the polling stations had closed. ‘Our constitutional right to vote was violated’, said Andrada Voinitchi, having spent three and a half hours queuing in the British capital. ‘I took my time reading about each candidate and make an informed voting decision. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to’, she added, quoted by Bloomberg.
Web-based EUOBSERVER publication notes that, unlike 2009, Romanians living abroad had a more difficult time trying to cast their vote, as the Foreign Ministry had only sent 600,000 ballots to embassies, although approximately 3M Romanian citizens are known to be living and working overseas. Romanians in London, Paris, Madrid, Berlin and Brussels queued for hours and a few thousands still had been unable to vote by the time the ballot boxes were sealed. In Paris, London and Vienna the Police had to intervene as people refused to leave, enraged by the faulty organisation of the election, the journalists further note.

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