Friday, November 21, 2008

The Romanian election is approaching, and I, for one, am as baffled as ever by the shifting allegiances in Romanian politics.

The election will take place on November 30th, which is next Sunday, and frankly an odd choice for an election day. You see, that's a long weekend, as December 1st is Romania's national day. Thus many people (one assumes) will actually be away from home (and hence the place in which they are registered to vote) either visiting family or enjoying the first of the winter snow (which I'm reliably informed is just round the corner), and not really looking to spend Sunday at home so they can vote.

This is the parliamentary election to elect a new government (but not a new president). This, at least, will presumably stop the endless bickering between the current government and the current president. Unless of course the current government get reelected (though this seems unlikely at the moment). So, here, basically is a quick primer on which parties stand a chance of having seats and being involved in coalition speculation.

Let's start with the PSD. The PSD (Social Democrats) are essentially the ex-communists. I presume by now there are some young and thrusting members who were never in the Communist Party, as they were not yet adults in 1989, but it seems like most of them were. The grand puppet master of the PSD is Ion Ilescu who was Ceausescu's right hand man, before positioning himself handily at the revolution and ending up as president following Nic's unfortunate violent death. I'm not sure what he's up to now, but his presence is still very strong around the party. The PSD are nominally of the left, but who knows what that means these days. Most confusingly they've allied themelsves at this election with the Conservative Party (PC). Obviously it's a tad confusing being English and finding an electoral alliance between the ex-communists and the conservatives, but I'm coming to terms with the idea that names don't mean a great deal (as if to prove this the conservatives were formerly called the humanist party). But the Conervatives seem to me like a trad right wing party - anti gay, in favour of "family values" whatever they are, and basically you're run of the mill bunch of rightists. No idea what the thinking behind the coalition is.

The other two major parties were allies four years ago, but now seem to hate each other's guts. There are the Democrats (PD) from which party comes the current president Traian Basescu (he's the bald bloke you see on photoshoots of EU leaders). They are kind of centrist (but to me what these days counts as "centrist" really is soft right. The party they fell out with the Liberals (PNL) who currently head up a minority government without the PD because they are not friends any more. They are to the right of the PD. Most of the last two years of Romanian politcis has been about the feud between these two, with each attempting to ridicule the other, and especially the most visible face of each party - Basescu(PD) and Tariceanu(PNL), the Prime Minister. Nobody I have spoken to thinks this election will change anything much, but at least, presumably, we'll see less of this soap opera for a while.

Those three will get most of the votes, but other parties that might get above the 5% threshold needed to get seats are the UDMR (The Hungarian Party who are big fish in my small pond), the PMR (extremist right wingers, who are thankfully on the wane) , and that's about it. Thankfully Gigi Becali's PNG party who are just a bunch of mad far right extremist "christians" are unlikely to make it.

The voting system has also changed this time. Before it was a party list system, but this time it has been changed into something called the uninominal system. This means, I think, that you actually get to a vote for a person rather than a list, which I suspect will serve to make Romanian politics even less interesting to the electorate since the candidates are so often such faceless nobodies, At least if you voted for a list you could choose policies, now they're being asked to vote for a sack of white potatoes or a sack of red potatoes. I could be wrong though, and maybe turnout will floruish with excited voters all wanting to vote for their man.

On which note, the final point for now (and I certainly hope that I get some comments here correcting what I expect to be a litany of errors), and that is the gender of the candidates. The last word of the previous paragraph was chosen carefully. Because you see there are no women. Well obnviously there are 1 or 2, but really this is about the most male election I can imagine. Today I drove from Miercurea Ciuc to Bucharest and passed loads of election posters. Tons of the things, and I saw one woman, One woman in 250 km of election advertising plastered over every billboard. It's a tad depressing. The one successful woman in the last parliament, who was elected woman of the year in the European parliament, Monica Macovei, got kicked out of the justice ministry in Romania for trying too hard to stamp out corruption.


Pedro said...

I´ve lived in Romania for one year. They are all pathetic. reading a serious newspaper is just hilarious. You really can´t understand how people allow it.

It is a shame, a total disaster with no future.

It´s often said tha people get what deserve. Do romanians deserve this? Mmm...good question

If PDL wins, will PC move for the second time from socialdemocracy to liberalism? Place bets

Bogdan said...

About the gay issue: all Romanian parties are anti-gay, the difference is that the Conservatives bring up the subject without being asked about it.

About women, there are a few in Bucharest.

BTW, in my district, there's a PDL candidate, Anca Boagiu, who missed around 90% of the votes in the Parliament in the last four years...

If she gets re-elected, that's a proof that there's no differences between lists and candidates, because people don't actually follow the activity of their MPs.

Mihai Bucur said...

re Bogdan - it's not necessarily true that all Romanian parties are anti-gay. The Liberals (PNL) and the UDMR have so far not engaged in overt homophobia. Key figures from the otherwise rather conservative PDL have supported the annual GayFest pride parade.

However, the stance of the parties towards gay rights makes a broader statement about the peculiar nature of the Romanian political spectrum.

The PSD are allied with the Conservatives because they actually have quite a lot in common. Unlike Western European leftist parties, the PSD are largely social conservatives, drawing their support from the populist rural and low-income electorate. Thus, the PSD is actually more anti-gay than the PDL and PNL. It is also more anti-Hungarian and more nationalist.

I also disagree slightly with Andy that the PNL (Liberals) are to the right of the PDL (Democrats). The PDL are part of the EPP-ED Christian Democratic Group in the European Parliament, and they have tried to present themselves to the public as a liberal conservative party, quite akin to the British Tories.

The PNL, on the other hand, is economically liberal and more socially liberal than the PDL. In particular, it is more supportive of ethnic minority rights. Nevertheless, they take pride in their "right-wing" position, often distinguishing themselves as being the true "right wing" party in Romania.

This is because, in Romania, "right wing" does not have the socially conservative connotations it does in Western Europe. Rather, "right wing" means "economically liberal, pro-middle class, pro-Western", while "left wing" means "socialist, populist". Fascist parties such as the PRM never call themselves "right wing" in Romania, since nationalism is not seen as being right wing. Indeed, the PRM has on repeated occassions called itself a "party of the left".

Due to its urban, tertiary educated electorate, the self-declared right wing PNL is just about the most socially liberal party in Romania.

Bogdan said...

Well, PNL and UDMR have tried to keep quiet officially about the issue, but individual politicians belonging to those parties have made public their disgust of homosexuality, which they consider immoral, shameful, against Romanian family values and incompatible with Christianity.

For example, Radu Tarle (PNL), President of the County Council of Bihor said: "It's a great shame that our capitals hosts each year such manifestations."

Even the Greens, who, by belonging to the European Greens, are required to support gay marriage, never brought up the subject. (I suspect they don't know they have to support it)

Mihai Bucur said...

I think you might be phrasing the opposition too strongly.

Key figures in the UDMR, such as Gyorgy Frunda and Peter Eckstein Kovacs, have actually come out in support of gay rights, with Eckstein Kovacs even stating that he supports registered partnership for same-sex couples.

Radu Tarle is indeed an example of homophobic speech, but he made those statements while he was in the PD (not that it matters a whole lot). Nevertheless, it's true that the PNL does have a few homophobes. However, they seem to be outnumbered by people who are either ambivalent, favourable or politically correct.

The open characterisation of homosexuality as "immoral, shameful etc" has mostly been restricted to the far-right parties such as PRM and PNG.

It's interesting that you bring up the Green Party. I find them fascinating, since they seem to be very far away from the values of the "green political movement". Not only on gay rights, but also on things like separation of church and state, economics, social justice, minority rights, etc. You even get people like Gheorghe Zamfir declaring his Christian credentials and stating that the Green Party is pro-Christian values!!

Bogdan said...

Actually, Tarle said that this spring, after he moved to PNL.

Eckstein is indeed the only Romanian politician to declare clearly that he supports gay marriages.

Nevertheless, UDMR can't be considered a socially progressive party, it's just a bunch of people whose only thing in common is that they're Hungarians. I'm almost sure that the Catholic priest who runs for UDMR in my electoral district doesn't support gay marriages. :-)

Gadjo Dilo said...

We have two (rather attractive, not that it should matter, of course) ladies running here in Cluj, one for the UDMR and the other (I think) for the PSD.

I stopped in my tracks yesterday though when I saw a poster for Dragoş-Gabriel Zisopol, running under the banner of the Hellenic Union of Romania (my rough translation) with the slogan "Greek soul, Romanian Heart". I find this idea fascinating - applying the ideals of Hellenism to Romanian life - dose anybody know if these folk are serious candidates?