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November 20, 2019
POLITICS

Parliament’s legacy after term marred by radical changes and political crises

Preceded by the toppling of two Governments over a very short time span (the resignation of the Boc Government, the toppling of the Ungureanu Government through a no-confidence vote and its replacement with the Ponta Government), but also by the second bid to impeach Traian Basescu, incumbent President at the time, the current Parliament, set to end with the Romanians’ vote on December 11, puts an end to a long line of events that have reset the political game, a brief review revealing special dynamics, an analysis published by vocea.biz shows.

Of the major cases that the current Parliament was expected to solve, none entered a real debate. The administrative reform or the remodelling of institutional architecture by amending the Constitution were completely abandoned at the level of political action, being nevertheless speculated at the level of discourse, depending on the temporary interests of the political actors, so much so that they were emptied of content.

Apart from the lack of real will, one of the main reasons that led to this abandonment was also the radical change of the Legislative’s political structure, doubled by major political crises too.

 

How Parliament looked like at the start of the USL legislature

 

The Parliament whose term started in December 2012 was dominated by the Social Liberal Union (USL), which essentially consisted of PSD and PNL, an alliance that some considered against nature but which, against the backdrop of a profound current against the Head of State, won by a landslide (over 60 percent of the votes) the elections of December 2012, with the slogan “Justice all the way.”

Moreover, had the pure uninominal voting system, which works on the “winner takes all” principle, been used instead of the proportional representation system through which mandates are assigned proportionally to the percentages that parties win at national level, Parliament would have been in the absurd situation of lacking an Opposition, considering that the other alliance of small right-wing political parties centred on PDL (ARD) failed to win a single electoral district but won around 16 percent of the national votes.

Three elections took place during this Parliament’s term – the European Parliament elections and the presidential elections in 2014, and the local elections in June 2016. Also during its term, USL broke apart and PSD and PNL returned to being the main political opponents in the December 11th parliamentary elections. PSD lost the Romanian presidency for the third consecutive time, this time to PNL and Klaus Iohannis, and then lost the Government too, against the backdrop of the Colectiv nightclub fire tragedy.

In parallel, political parties disappeared and appeared, others merged or became political forces to reckon with, expanding at national level. PC merged with PLR, forming ALDE; Monica Macovei left PDL immediately after the EP elections in May 2014 and ran for president while backed by an independent platform that subsequently became the M10 party (a political party that was not even able to meet the legal conditions needed to run in the local elections); under the aegis of the “national interest,” UNPR formed alliance with the Right and with the Left and was in Government without actually ever running on its own in elections, basically disappearing from the political scene after it was absorbed by PMP, a party established in 2013 and led by Traian Basescu.

The Save Bucharest Union became a party with national-level ambitions, while PNL merged with PDL after Traian Basescu said “goodbye” to the Democrat Liberals. All these political moves, which could confuse any observer completely unaware of the “subtleties” of Romanian politics, took place during a single legislature.

USL’s disintegration against the backdrop of the competition for Romania’s Presidency had an impact on legislative level too. Having a crushing parliamentary majority, the PSD-PNL alliance could have effortlessly finalised the amending of the Constitution, administrative reform or any other project, including the amending of the Penal Codes.

The collapse of the alliance inevitably led to the blocking of any overture, while the project to amend the Constitution, started by the special commission chaired by PNL’s Crin Antonescu, was abandoned just like former presidential candidate Antonescu abandoned politics, being in fact one of the important leaders who will no longer run in the December elections.

The amending of electoral laws and the modification of the way elections campaigns are financed, but also the controversial Big Brother Law for which the Romanian Intelligence Service lobbied massively, invoking the alarming rise of terrorist threats at international level, as an argument in favour of limiting personal freedoms in terms of storage and processing of personal data, are the only important laws that the current Parliament adopted and that passed the Constitutional Court of Romania’s oversight.

Nevertheless, the compromise that PSD and PNL reached on the electoral laws does not rule out new changes that the future Parliament will have to decide. One of them concerns the way in which mayors and county council chairmen will be elected. Basically, the lawmakers that will be sworn in at the end of December will have to decide whether the current one-round mayoral election system is kept in place (Traian Basescu being the promoter of this kind of election system), a system that causes a lack of legitimacy for the person elected (Gabriela Firea is the Bucharest Mayor elected with the smallest number of votes in post-1989 history, basically just 246,553 voters deciding who will lead Bucharest’s local administration).

Parliamentarians will also have to decide whether county council chairmen will continue to be elected by county council members or whether they will be elected through direct vote as before. At the same time, although it is difficult to believe the party lists voting system will be questioned again (the system being chosen by the current Parliament), the future Parliament will have to settle the issue of the number of Lower Chamber and Senate lawmakers. Several projects to lower the number of lawmakers to 300 have been filed but none passed through Parliament, although the decision could have been taken without the need to amend the Constitution, the vocea.biz analysis also shows.

Rendering laws flexible in order to allow outsiders to enter the political competition was not settled all the way through either, although USR could contradict this reality. The members of the current Legislative eventually admitted to amending the political parties law in such a way that new political parties could be established by just three founding members. However, in order to nevertheless protect the monopoly and to deter independents, lawmakers set a difficult-to-attain threshold when it comes to the conditions that have to be met to enter the electoral battle (the number of signatures of support needed to officially register the candidacies).

Another topic tackled was the extremely low number of lawmakers representing the Diaspora (only 4 Lower Chamber lawmakers and 2 Senators). Despite the emotional wave triggered by the way Romanians living abroad were blocked from exercising their right to vote, the politicians’ promises concerning their exercise of electoral rights did not lead to their better representation in the future Parliament, nor to the full settlement of postal voting.

During the current Parliament’s term, PNL and PSD managed to agree only on one postal voting formula, concerning only the election of the Lower Chamber and the Senate, leaving it to the future representatives to legislate this type of voting when it comes to electing the Romanian President too, the analysis published by vocea.biz shows.

 

 

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