Romania's Ruling Liberals, Socialists Neck And Neck In Critical Elections
By RFE/RL's Romanian Service December 06, 2020
BUCHAREST -- Romania's ruling National Liberal Party (PNL) and the leftist Social Democrats (PSD) were neck and neck in the country's parliamentary elections, according to an exit poll released on December 6.
The pro-European liberals had 29 percent against the PSD's 30.5 percent, a CURS-Avangarde exit poll showed. The center-right alliance USR-PLUS won 15.9 percent of votes, while four smaller parties picked up about 5 percent of the vote each.
Both the PNL and PSD claimed victory, but the initial results indicate that President Klaus Iohannis will tap the PNL to form a center-right governing alliance, likely with the USR-PLUS and one or two smaller parties.
The elections in the EU member state were considered key to determining whether the pro-European liberals will gain enough support to embark on their badly needed reformist agenda despite mixed results in their handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Voters chose 136 senators and 329 deputies, a little over a year after the PNL minority government took over after the collapse of the PSD cabinet following a string of corruption scandals and massive public protests.
The liberals, led by Prime Minister Ludovic Orban, and President Iohannis, a former leader of the PNL, had sought to assuage concerns about the pandemic to urge voters to come out in large numbers.
But Romanians appeared wary of the pandemic and disillusioned with Romania's political class, with turnout only at around 32 percent, lower than in the 2016 parliamentary elections.
Romania, one of the poorest European Union members, initially handled the coronavirus pandemic with unexpected success despite a health-care system marred by an acute lack of modern facilities, an exodus of medical personnel, and endemic corruption.
However, a new spike in infections after the summer was not met with the same decisiveness. And the health-care network, still reeling from the first wave, was quickly overwhelmed.
Despite corruption and poverty, Romania remains staunchly pro-EU and pro-American, with Orban and Iohannis promising to launch a modernization campaign long delayed in the three decades since the fall of communism and keeping the country on a pro-Western path.
But PSD, the heir to the Communist Party and the political force that has dominated Romanian politics for most of last 30 years, remains an adversary to be reckoned with.
PSD's landslide victory in 2016 allowed it to unleash an all-out assault on the judiciary and the rule of law that brought tens of thousands of Romanians into the streets and prompted stark warnings from the EU and the United States.
Although weakened by the imprisonment last year on corruption charges of its former leader Liviu Dragnea and removed from power through a no-confidence vote last year, PSD has the largest network of party organizations.
The PSD also dominates most of the local administration in rural areas, where it relies on a group of rich, influential, and arguably corrupt "local barons" whose left-wing credentials remain questionable but whose power is indispensable for PSD.
The new PSD leader, Marcel Ciolacu, who has carefully distanced himself from Dragnea, has accused Orban's government of "incompetence" and failing to keep the spread of the coronavirus under control.
Some 4 million Romanians who live in Western Europe have traditionally voted against PSD, which they perceive as corrupt and in many cases the very reason why they left the country.
The diaspora proved crucial in last year's elections for the European Parliament, which dealt a defeat to PSD.
Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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