Uncertainty after Romania leftists’ election comeback
Corruption-tainted leftists back into power
Romania faced fresh political uncertainty yesterday as a thumping election comeback by the corruption-tainted left put them on collision course with the centre-right president. A year after anger over a deadly nightclub fire drove them from office, partial official results showed the Social Democrats (PSD) won 45.3 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election.
Their centre-right rivals National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Save Romania Union (USR), newly created by a mathematician-turned-activist, trailed on a combined 29.5 percent. “There is no doubt who the winners are,” PSD head Liviu Dragnea said late Sunday. “Romanians voted for economic growth, more money in their pockets and for well-paid jobs.” The PSD’s likely coalition partners, the liberal ALDE party, cleared the five-percent hurdle needed to enter parliament, likely giving them a combined majority in the parliament.
However, it was unclear who will become prime minister of the European Union’s second-poorest country and succeed caretaker premier Dacian Ciolos, 47, a former European commissioner. As chief of the biggest party the logical choice would be Dragnea and comments late Sunday from the 54-year-old suggested that he wants the job. “I do not intend to gift my votes to someone else, whether it be a person or an institution. I ran the campaign, the party, it was an enormous responsibility,” he said.
However Dragnea is serving a suspended sentence for electoral fraud, which in theory under Romanian law bars him from office. The PSD may seek a way around this but centre-right President Klaus Iohannis has also refused to appoint anyone with legal problems. Political expert Cristian Parvulescu said he expects Iohannis to stick to his guns. “Dragnea has an enormous problem. He runs the risk of losing this battle,” Parvulescu said. But he said there was also the possibility that the PSD may try to suspend Iohannis, as happened with his predecessor Traian Basescu twice.
‘Dare to believe’
The left’s triumph was remarkable, coming barely a year after tens of thousands of people took to streets in the wake of the October 30, 2015 disco blaze. The inferno was blamed on corrupt officials turning a blind eye to an absence of fire precautions, and the sorry state of Romanian health care exacerbated the death toll. The outrage prompted a push to tackle graft, something Brussels has long complained about, and there are concerns that the left’s comeback may reverse progress in this area. But the well-organized PSD, which has strong support among older, rural voters, sought to turn attention away from corruption by focusing on the economy. With the slogan “Dare to Believe”, Dragnea vowed to create 45,000 new jobs with a “national reindustrialisation” plan and to slash the flat income tax rate from 16 to 10 percent.
This went down well in a country where half of rural households have no running water, one in four people lives in poverty and scores of schools can’t afford heating. However, voter apathy remains rife. Turnout on Sunday was just 39.5 percent, one of the lowest in the 27 years since the execution of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and the end of Communism. “In 1989 I was full of hope,” newspaper vendor Niculae Popescu said yesterday. “But I can’t be very optimistic as long as I see there is no improvement in the people who govern us.” — AFP
BUCHAREST: Romanian Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos touches his forehead during an interview with the Associated Press in Bucharest, Romania. —AP