Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Romanian Elections - FAQs

Idly flicking through the news today around the net (does one "idly flick through" websites or do I need a new phrase here?) it is clear to me that the way the Romanian election and subsequent mess is being presented in the foriegn, English-language press is somewhat flawed. So I thought I'd provide a handy guide for anyone who wants to read some English language coverage of what is going on here, which is not stuck in the same old "PSD-leftist communists vs. Basescu-free market superman" thing.

In order to do that I have done what any self-respecting website does and made a list of Frequently Asked Questions. And like every other self-respecting website, these are not actually literally frequently asked questions, rather questions which I have made up which I feel like supplying an entirely subjective answer to.

Q: The PSD says the election was corrupt and fraudulent. Is this true?
A: Of course it was corrupt and fraudulent. Everything in Romania is corrupt and fraudulent. Especially politics.

Q: So does that mean that Basescu didn't really win?
A: Probably not. You see it is difficult to imagine that anyone could possibly be more corrupt and fraudulent than the PSD. Ergo, whatever vote buying, electoral tourism, ballot box stuffing, figure twisting went on, it is more likely to have benefitted Geoana than Basescu. So, while we will probably never know how much scamming went on, by whom, and for whom, it seems fairly likely that the overall result is just about correct.

Q: Electoral Tourism?
A: Ah yes, a great euphemism. It means driving a bunch of voters around in a bus from polling station to polling station so they can vote a few times each. A number of such buses were stopped and the people done for this, which suggests that a number of other such buses were probably not stopped

Q: But ultimately this is a good result for Romania, right?

A: We-ee-lll, maybe. The country has been in political deadlock for months now, with no government and no prospect of one. It is difficult to see how this has changed, and in fact as the presidential election was so close, and so disputed, it is likely to have got worse. When even the IMF are reluctant to let you have a loan, you know things are really rough

Q: But that Geoana is a Communist, so it's good he lost?
A: His party was one of the parties that emerged from the post Communist rubble, through the transitional FSN government. Pretty much everyone in the FSN was fairly well-to-do in the Communist party. The PSD are very much a party of ex-communists. However, the PD-L (Basescu's party) also emerged from the FSN. In the last presidential election he (Basescu) famously said of the battle between himself and then PSD rival Adrian Nastase: "You know what Romania's greatest curse is right now? It's that Romanians have to choose between two former Communist Party members." Things didn't change this time around.

The barking mad Wall Street Journal seems to think Geoana is a Communist because he sort-of-half-wants progressive taxation, which is hardly some incredibly left-wing thing - more or less everyone has progressive taxation, and Romania is weird and arguably hard-core right wing for having a flat-tax. (Of all the odd viewpoints of the elections that I've read, that one really takes the biscuit)

Q: I'm getting bored now, can you tell me any other interesting facts?

A: Not really, except that the votes from overseas made the difference in the end - the majority of the Romanian diaspora who voted did so for Basescu, and without those votes Geoana would have won (obviously that's assuming all the votes were fairly counted, which is obviously a slightly mad assumption). There is some controversy here as the exit polls which pronounced Geoana the winner were made public before some voting had finished (particularly in North America).

Q: So, what's next?
A: The PSD are challenging the results in the constitutional court. This is bound to fail (I imagine), and so Basescu is the president. He'll have to then name a prime minister who can garner enough votes to form a government. Klaus Johannis, mayor of Sibiu, who became a kind of focal point for the PSD campaign, and even managed to get the support of the Romanian nationalist party (bizarrely since he's German), has withdrawn from this possibility. Basically Basescu has to make up with the PNL, who hold the balance of power in parliament (since it's unlikely that we'll now see another PD-L/PSD coalition for a while). How he manages this is more difficult to imagine. I suspect we'll be floating along without a government until at least the new year. Possibly February.

Happy 20th anniversary of the revolution. Can we have another one please, and get rid of all of them this time?


Bogdan said...

Victor Ponta from PSD said it right: this time, the fraud system of PD-L was better than theirs. I don't know if he realizes that by that he admits PSD did some fraud, too.

Traditionally, the number one fraudster was the PSD, but this year, it seems that PD-L beat them in their own game.

Electoral tourism went on as usual (the number who voted on supplementary lists was double the one in the first round, so there was more money invested in it), the bribe for voting a candidate was around 50 lei (in varied from a big pizza to 100 lei), etc.

I can safely say that the conventional fraud methods were more or less equal between the parties.

But the score of PD-L is very suspicious in some counties, but I'm still not able to pinpoint *how* PD-L did the fraud in there.

Băsescu won Dâmboviţa County, where in the second round, he had 50,000 votes more than in the first round. Where did all those votes came from, especially in a county which habitually votes for PSD and where Geoană even won the first round?

(my countryside relatives in Dâmboviţa voted for Geoană, like most people in their village, and typically there would have been no problems for him winning this mostly rural area)

Gadjo Dilo said...

Great coverage as usual, Andy, and thanks for the local insight from Bogdan. Folks in local villages here were "bribed" with small rucksacks and other such items - when is a bribe not a bribe??

"what any self-respecting website does... a list of Frequently Asked Questions... like every other self-respecting website, these are not actually literally frequently asked questions, rather questions which I have made up..." An excellent idea which, in the spirit of Romanian electoral fraud copy-catting, I feel inclined to rip off!

Andy H said...

Thanks both. Very good to get some informed insight that I don't have to filter through the PSD/PD-L Spokesman/media-empire screens Bogdan. Thanks a lot.

GD: Rip away. It's true though, no? That's what "FAQ"s actually are. I've written them before nnow for sites, and they're just questions that we think people might ask if they gave a toss (or just a device to give information in a vaguely more interesting way)

Anonymous said...

"he had 50,000 votes more than in the first round"

Framing it in this way would really makes one think the fraud was for sure.

The idea was that in the first round Basescu and Geoana both got around 30% of the votes. How the votes for the other candidates get distributed in the second round is not something that can be easily predicted in advance.

Anonymous said...

Many people might not be aware that in each polling station the anti-PD-L coalition (now claiming fraud) had a majority among the members there and they all signed the papers with the results.

Of course, one might say that PD-L bribed all those members in many polling stations but this is stretching it a bit too far.

Also, Geoana initially said that this was a "beautiful night for democracy"; after about 8 hours PSD claimed "massive fraud" - which came at about the time when they realized they lost.

Anonymous said...

Of course the Wall Street Journal is barking mad, it's from the country that thinks anything left of almost-PRM-esque reactionary stupidity is socialist.

-an American

Brother Tobias said...

In view of your electoral tourism, is it a coincidence that 'Traian Băsescu' is an anagram of 'Sectarian Bus'?