Why Romania still doesn’t have a democracy

Photo credits: Bogdan Duna

With a strong communist past that officially ended almost 30 years ago, the young Romanian democracy still does not show any signs of maturing. The current government, the Social Democratic party (PSD) is the only established self-declared left-wing force, having a convicted and sentenced leader (Liviu Dragnea) and a long recent history of defying the Romanian justice system by passing legislation aiding corruption. This corruption is making the poor, whom they are supposed to represent, even poorer – with lack of education, healthcare and equal opportunities being common, it will not be surprising if the turnout on the elections day will be low. How can these people make their way to vote when they fight for survival daily? And it is not just the poor – how could citizens make an informed choice, rather than a manipulated one, when the national press is mostly very biased and does not shy away from fabricating facts?

Many gave up on democracy, feeling like old politicians who were found to have been guilty of being unethical are still being recycled into new parties nowadays. The President of Pro Romania, a social-liberal party founded last year, is Victor Ponta, who came under immense criticism in 2015, when he was part of PSD and acted as Prime Minister. During his time as a PM, 64 people died and several others were wounded in the Colectiv nightclub fire, caused by poor safety regulations and endemic corruption, leading to fireworks being displayed indoors at a highly inflammable concert venue.

New parties have emerged since the last EP election, from the widely announced desire to offer better political alternatives. But most of these alternatives will not appear on the ballot paper, with Romania having the most stringent regulations with regard to running in the elections. With 200,000 signatures from supporters needed for political parties to run in the first place, and 100,000 signatures for independent candidates, the portrait of the country’s political spectrum looks rather undemocratic, with old, established parties having an obvious advantage in gaining access to the elections, while new alternatives are impeded through lacking enough popularity among citizens. The lack of transparency in checking the veracity of the signatures makes the legislation even more questionable.

The Democracy and Solidarity Party (DEMOS), on one hand, is a new party bringing a progressive left-wing alternative in Romania, much more popular in other parts of Europe, but still lacking supporters in the Eastern European country. With views such as protecting the environment, LGBT rights and gender equality (it is the only Romanian party with a female majority on the candidates list), DEMOS could have been a strong alternative to PSD (which, despite having a self-proclaimed left-wing identity, supported a referendum aiming to ban same-sex marriage on a constitutional level). At the other end of the spectrum, there is another new party which did not gather enough signatures, called the Alternative Right, which could easily pass as having a clerical fascism ideology, having previously expressed strong views against the LGBT community in the name of Christianity. A more balanced right-wing alternative until recently is the alliance between Save Romania Union (USR) and the Freedom, Unity and Solidarity Party (PLUS), an alliance formed by relatively new parties, which managed to gather enough support to run in the EP elections. These parties supported civic initiatives such as Fara Penali in Functii Publice (No Convicts in Public Roles), thus increasing political debate and engagement, while building the union’s identity as an anti-corruption movement. However, except for the anti-corruption discourse, which quickly became a populist one, the parties did not offer details on values they believe in and policies they will be fighting for if elected, which allowed for very contrasting views within the alliance, further confusing the electorate. Moreover, the latest project of USR involves up to ten years of prison for promoting communist ideas – therefore threatening social democracy promoted by new left-wing alternatives such as DEMOS, which could be subjectively misinterpreted based on right-wing values.

Examining the realistic options Romanians who have democratic values and ethics have at the fast-approaching EP elections, they can easily think of a question famously asked in a 1884 play written by Caragiale (Romanian playwright), by a character known as ‘a drunk citizen’, portraying how confusing the nation’s politics is: “Who am I voting for?”

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