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October 23, 2021

Who still trusts politicians?

One day, a bunny walks into a pharmacy and asks: “Good day, do you have honest politicians?” The pharmacist tells him she does not. The second day the bunny returns to the pharmacy. “Good day, do you have honest politicians?” “No, we don’t. This is a pharmacy, we don’t have politicians.” The third day the bunny returns: “Good day, do you have honest politicians?” The irritated pharmacists shouts: “NO! This is a phar-ma-cy!” The fourth day, the bunny rushes in again. “Good day, do you have honest politicians?” The pharmacist answers smilingly: “Yes, we have brought an honest politician. Here he is!” The bunny laughs: “Ha, ha! Now let’s see who believes him!”

This is an extrapolation of the famous joke about the bunny that goes into a pharmacy and asks insistently for carrot cake. A variant moulded on Romania’s daily society, in the elections year 2016, one in which we are preparing to vote for mayors as well as lawmakers. Hundreds and hundreds of persons that, through our votes, the votes of these country’s citizens, will draft laws, apply rules, guide our lives. All in the context in which last year alone more than 1,250 persons were arraigned for medium and high-level corruption, including five times more ministers and lawmakers than in 2013 (one prime minister, five ministers, 16 Lower Chamber MPs and 5 Senators, the total number of cases surpassing 11,000), as shown by the National Anticorruption Directorate’s (DNA) review report just taken out from the oven by Laura Codruta Kovesi, “the mother of anticorruption in Romania.” “It is the highest number of officials investigated by the DNA in a year,” the Chief Prosecutor stated. Nevertheless, she added a very important thing: “Nevertheless, ongoing cases show that we haven’t caught all the corrupt. Our results prove that there are major vulnerabilities that endanger the proper functioning of society.”

So the more than 100 (!) mayors and a third of all county council chairmen, arraigned in 2015 because of “non-transparent means of using public funds,” as DNA delicately presents the fact that these politicians generously helped themselves to our money, are only some of the thieves. The ones that juggled with bribes of EUR 431 M, “a sum comparable to the budget for the co-financing of the highway construction programme in 2016, 2017 and 2018,” as Kovesi herself put it. Some. And the rest? The rest are free. The rest could even run for office, as I wrote before, in the “The corrupt of today, the candidates of tomorrow?” editorial published by Nine O’Clock on 11 September 2015.

So then should we be surprised by the results of a recent Romanian Institute for Assessment and Strategy (IRES) survey that shows that the Romanians’ main attitude when it comes to politicians is… distrust?

The survey shows that three quarters of Romanians have disparaging opinions about Romanian parties. Three quarters! Thus, more than 9 in 10 respondents state that they have little to very little confidence in Romanian parties, and three quarters of the respondents think disparagingly about Romanian political parties.

“Distrust is the Romanians’ dominating attitude toward Romanian parties. Negative opinions about parties are more frequent among men, the 18-35 age group, people in urban areas and persons with higher education. (…) While more than 9 in 10 respondents believe that parties should represent the citizens’ interests, only 6 per cent of respondents believe that Romanian parties meet this criterion. Party leaders are considered the main beneficiaries of party interests, followed by party members,” the survey shows.

The document shows that parties are almost exclusively associated with negative notions. When asked to say the first word that comes to their mind when they think about Romanian political parties, most answers disparage political parties. “Among them the most frequent are: thieves/theft/imposture (12 per cent of respondents) and bribery (10 per cent). Positive connections are present in a low percentage,” the IRES survey shows.

Concerning the upcoming elections in Romania, only a third of respondents (34 per cent) believe that the country’s situation will improve after the local and parliamentary elections this year, while 43 per cent believe the situation will remain the same and 17 per cent believe it will worsen.

Why do Romanians no longer trust politicians? This is the question politicians themselves should ponder on. However, faced with this situation, they choose the simplest solution, making up for lost time and competing in populist measures hoping they could fool the just below 50 per cent of Romanians who still plan to go to the polls this year. Without long-term plan for change, for system reset. And precisely this lack of preparation angers them, corroborated with the continuous line of political figures that go back and forth to hearings in corruption cases in the midst of a sustained anticorruption campaign. These things dissuade people, even the most optimistic who kept hoping that a saving figure, a symbol of fairness that would put things in order, would emerge from somewhere. Because yes, Romanians no longer trust politicians. And any regular man on the street knows why and can answer this question unhesitatingly, precisely because he is living every day in a broth that a chef is trying to fix after he prepared it with whatever was at hand in the kitchen and is now throwing in some of this and that ingredient hoping it would become edible. Well, it is not. It no longer is. And people have had enough of this broth.

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