Romanian left seeks comeback one year after nightclub fire
Romanians voted yesterday in parliamentary elections that are forecast to see the corruption-tainted left stage a remarkable comeback, a year after a deadly nightclub fire forced them from office. Mass protests after the fire on October 30, 2015 that claimed 64 lives-and which was blamed on corruption-forced premier Victor Ponta and his Social Democrats (PSD) to resign. But now, 13 months later, the PSD is expected to be in pole position to return to power, with pre-election opinion polls suggesting it will come first with around 40 percent of the vote.
It remains to be seen if it can form a majority government, however. Much will depend on which of the smaller parties make it into parliament. The rival centreright National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Save Romania Union (USR, newly created by a mathematician-turned-activist, are seen garnering a combined 35-40 percent. The European Union’s second-poorest country has been run for the past year by a caretaker government under technocrat Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos, 47, a former European commissioner.
The PNL and the USR have said they would support Ciolos staying on. He is happy to do so but wants to remain an independent, vowing continued budgetary discipline. But the PSD wants to install instead party head Liviu Dragnea, 54, as premier. However, Dragnea is serving a suspended sentence for electoral fraud, which legally bars him from office, while President Klaus Iohannis, 57, has refused to appoint anyone with legal problems as premier. This would also exclude a comeback by Ponta, 44, currently on trial-in fact he was already in the dock as prime minister-for alleged tax evasion and money laundering, charges he denies.
The inferno inside the Colectiv club was blamed on bent officials turning a blind eye to a lack of fire precautions. Poor medical care exacerbated the death toll. For many Romanians it was the final straw, and the tragedy prompted a push to clean Romania up. The National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) has been highly active and visible, bringing ministers, senators, lawmakers and other public officials to justice. A recent survey suggested that 95 percent of Romanians want tackling corruption to be a priority for the next government But there are worries this will not happen if the PSD returns to power. The clean-up has “disproportionately hit the Romanian left,” said Tsveta Petrova from risk consultancy Eurasia Group. “As a result, should a left-led coalition come to power, it will try to slow down this campaign.”
But the PSD is still forecast to become the largest party, thanks to solid support among older Romanians and in rural areas of the southeastern European nation of 20 million people. However, 27 years after the summary execution of Dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and the end of Communism, voter apathy is rife, with turnout forecast to be as low as 40 percent.
Both sides, while trading insults and generally avoiding serious political discussion during the campaign, have pledged spectacular hikes in wages and pensions as well as tax cuts. Such promises, however unaffordable, go down well in a nation where more than half of rural households have no running water and one in four people lives in poverty. Three million people have emigrated.
At the same time, however, the nationalist and anti-EU rhetoric seen in other countries in the region like Hungary and Poland has been largely, if not entirely, absent. “Change has to start with all of us,” voter Livia Gheorghe, a student, told AFP. “So I am going to vote and I hope that my vote counts and that the political class finally changes, too.” “All the current politicians should go,” said Florin, an engineer. Polling stations for Romania’s 18.8 million registered voters close at 1900 GMT, with exit polls and projections expected afterwards.
BUCHAREST: A Romanian woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Bucharest during parliamentary elections.