TCS Daily

Trust the Voters

By Anca Banescu - June 14, 2004 12:00 AM

Just when nobody believed there was any chance for "normalcy" in Romania an amazing twist of fate has restored hope to many discouraged souls. Last week Romanians voted for new representatives in the local administration. Though it only was the first round of local elections it seems to have already had a major significance for Romania.

While everybody foresaw an overall triumph for the ruling Social Democrat Party (PSD) the results of the Sunday elections show that PSD has to share the power. The opposition - liberals and democrats united in an alliance previously rated as weak and isolated because of the monopoly of PSD on media - has won more votes than expected.

The main political actors are surprising - and surprised with themselves. After only one round these elections have leveled the political playing field. In the words of Mircea Geoana, the foreign affairs minister and the defeated candidate of the ruling party for Bucharest mayor, the PSD is left with a "scar".

Actually PSD is a winner in decline. It still has enough political force but is not the most powerful party anymore. From 2000 to 2004 this party succeeded in doubling its local mandates by different means including blackmail, thus getting to control almost 80 percent of the positions in the local administration. Now voters have returned the PSD back to its level in 2000 and given the opposition more support than the pre-electoral polls estimated.

The delicate situation for the PSD is that while it will still govern at the national level, locally it will cede control to the opposition. The spectacular electoral results of the democratic-liberal Alliance (PD and PNL) simplify the battle field and reduce the competition to two main competitors: PSD and the Alliance. There remain a few small parties - among them the Democratic Alliance of the Hungarians in Romania and Greater Romania Party - that can only count as useful political allies. These small parties are already being courted by the PSD and the Alliance because they can help one of the two in collecting more votes in the second round of the local elections and in the parliamentary and presidential elections at the end of the year. After the elections the small parties may play a stabilizing role by helping the winner obtain a majority in Parliament and in the government.

The vote revealed some significant sociological trends:

* six out of ten Romanians did not vote (according to preliminary estimates) and absenteeism has been increasing;

* urban voters reject the ruling party - which is associated with oligarchy, corruption, a nonfunctioning economy;

* the rural population remains a prisoner of PSD whose votes can be bought.

But most important, these local elections shake up the economic environment at the local level. Private enterprises owned by local politicians now lose their privileged access to public contracts and EU funds. By punishing the so called "local barons" the electorate shows maturity and this is an important gain for the democratization process in Romania. The change was made possible only by the people.

The new local leaders now have a great opportunity to boost economic development in the run-up to EU accession. This is the Romanians` choice. Good governance is the keyword here. Modern management, correct practices, the use of the generous internal and foreign funds in favor of citizens, implementation and enforcement of the EU's acquis communautaire, business encouragement - these are not only the expectations of the Romanians but also the requirements for a successful accession in 2007 that is likely to be accomplished by the new political forces.

The shift comes at a delicate moment when the accession of Romania risks being delayed. In view of this situation the shift brought by the Sunday elections may be seen as a turning point. And the main lesson can be summarized as follows: Just trust Romanians!


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