Election preview: Romania

Romania goes to the polls on Sunday in a parliamentary election that is shaping as a comfortable victory for prime minister Ludovic Orban (no relation, apparently, to the more famous Viktor Orbán of neighboring Hungary) and his centre-right government.

The last election, in 2016, returned the centre-left Social Democrats to power with a large plurality, and they governed in coalition with the left-liberal ALDE (now, after a merger, known as PRO Romania). But factional infighting and a series of scandals took their toll, and in October 2019 the then prime minister Viorica Dăncilă was defeated on a vote of confidence.

President Klaus Iohannis – who is more than just a figurehead, having independent powers on roughly the French model – then turned to the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL) and appointed its leader, Orban, as prime minister. He also lost a vote of confidence, in February this year, but was able to reconstruct his government and survive in parliament, helped by the need for national unity in the face of Covid-19.

In the meantime, Iohannis had sought a second term as president and was re-elected in a landslide in November last year, beating Dăncilă with 66.1% in the second round. That gave a boost to the PNL, and although its support has eased off a bit during the course of this year, it retains a healthy lead in the opinion polls.

Voting is proportional with a 5% threshold; up to 17 of the 329 seats are reserved for ethnic minority parties, with a lower threshold. (Note that the party representing the Hungarian minority, UDMR, is not included among them – it is big enough to compete for the ordinary seats, winning 6.2% and 21 seats last time.)

Six parties cleared the threshold last time, and the same six (with a couple of renamings) look to be again the only ones in contention. Unless the polls are badly wrong, the PNL, the Social Democrats and the centrist USR (now running as Alliance 2020) will finish in that order, well clear of the three smaller parties: PRO, UDMR and the centre-right People’s Movement Party, which may struggle to reach the 5% mark.

The expectation is that Orban will govern in coalition with USR, which has been supporting the government, and probably some of the ethnic minority parties. After a rather chaotic period, Romanian politics appears to be settling down.

The other thing to note is the complete absence from the field of the political current that in other places gets labelled “populist”, “far right” or “Eurosceptic”. While Romania is a relatively poor country with many problems, its voters seem broadly content with (or at least resigned to) the choices on offer and show no signs of wanting to upend the system.

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