Elections prolong uneasy cohabitation, pitting popular vote against presidential will Monday, Dec 10 2012 

Partial results released by the Central Electoral Bureau show the landslide victory of the Social Liberal Union (USL), an electoral bloc gathering the tiny Conservative Party and two erstwhile rivals – the Social Democrat Party (PSD), heir to the Communist Party, and the ‘historic’ National Liberal Party (PNL), the communists’ former victim. The Social Liberals gained 60 percent of the popular vote for each chamber, as opposed to their rivals, the Right Romania Alliance (ARD), which won 17 percent. The Alliance consists of the Democrat Liberal Party (PDL), which ruled the country in 2008-2012 with backing from President Traian Basescu, and several inconsequential satellites set up as tiny personal and interest parties. The partial results (available here) confirm the rise of the Popular Party of Dan Diaconescu (PPDD) as the third electoral winner with 14 percent of the vote. Besides 18 deputies representing ethnic minorities, the only other formation likely to enter parliament is the Democratic Union of Magyars, representing the 1.5 million strong Hungarian community, which barely passed the 5 percent electoral threshold. Voter turnout stood at some 40 percent.

The Romanian mixed PR system includes two stages. First, it allows a candidate to win a seat if she can gather a simple majority of the votes in her college. Second, in colleges where no candidate has majority, a vote redistribution system permits candidates to win seats based on their party’s strength. Candidates who rank second and even third in a college could enter parliament, if their party performed better than the party of the candidate who ranked first. In practice, the PR component strengthens the formation that gains most votes, provides for uneven representation (as the minimum required number of votes to win a seat differs widely across various colleges, ranging from 6,000 to over 20,000) and enlarges parliament with additional seats so that the overall seat distribution roughly matches vote distribution. The USL won all seats in 25 of the 43 colleges, but no ARD candidate pulled the majority needed to win a seat in the first stage (except the ARD candidate for diaspora, representing Romanians living abroad). Most tellingly, the ARD co-presidents (Vasile Blaga of the PDL, Mihai Razvan Ungureanu of the Civic Force Party, Aurelian Pavelescu of the National Christian Democrat Peasant Party, and Mihail Neamtu of the New Republic) mustered insufficient support, although all of them competed in colleges they considered the safest, and easiest wins, for them. Some ARD candidates will likely secure seats through redistribution.

The results largely mirrored the June local elections, and therefore should surprise no one. Several trends are worth noting. First, these parliamentary elections confirmed that the alternation in power effected by motion of non-confidence in April (when the former opposition USL formed the government and the former ruling PDL joined the opposition) is underpinned by a real shift in popular sentiment. Far from amounting to a putsch, a coup d’etat, or an illegitimate grab of power, the motion signaled that more Romanians support the Social Liberals than the Democrat Liberals. Second, the Social Liberals won by a landslide despite the grave charges of plagiarism brought against Social Democrat PM Victor Ponta in June, his failure to unseat President Basescu in July, his willingness to bend political rules and weaken key institutions, his lack of a sound strategy for governing the country since May, the generally weak Social Liberal electoral campaign, and the unrelenting criticism of the Ponta government mounted by European Union leaders and foreign governments. True, fewer Romanians came out to vote in December, than in the June local elections or the July referendum that decided Basescu’s fate, but there are few signs that the USL lost significant ground during the last few months. The Social Liberal win shows that the Romanian voters simply had other priorities – chief among them was the bashing of President Basescu, scapegoated for everything that went wrong in that country.

Third, the elections reduced the once powerful Democrat Liberals to a mere shadow of their former self, thus further isolating President Basescu in the political arena. While in 2008 they won 32 percent of the vote by running alone, in 2012 they barely polled half that support rate by participating in a multi-party alliance. In 2008 the PDL was supported by 2.2 million voters, but in June 2012 the ARD gathered only 1.4 million and in December a bare 1,2 million (opinion polls conducted in November suggested that the ARD would gather less than the PDL, but running separately was not possible once the electoral campaign started). This significant loss of ground stemmed from many factors, not least the party’s strong ties with the unpopular President Basescu, who was severely delegitimized by the July referendum in which over 7.4 million Romanians voted against him, the PDL’s association with satellite parties lacking legitimacy and credibility, its failure to present a coherent electoral message or a clear political agenda, unwillingness to field candidates in USL-dominated colleges, and frantic search for “safe colleges.” The PDL was further affected by its refusal to vet corrupt candidates, some of whom prosecutors placed under investigation for corrupt behavior after the party deemed them fit to run in elections, and to acknowledge the failures of Prime Minister Emil Boc (2008-2012), who became unpopular not so much for the austerity measures of 2010 as for the way he wasted public resources in times of economic restraint and left ordinary citizens to shoulder the austerity program while protecting the interests of party clients.

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Fourth, the elections further propelled the anti-system PPDD to parliament, showing that for at least some voters neither the USL nor the ARD were credible alternatives, since their main parties have dominated post-communist politics since 1989. This personal party – created by Dan Diaconescu, a self-made media mogul who owns the country’s trashiest television station – gathers mostly politicians who either were expelled from or left other formations for personal reasons. PPDD candidates like the former PDL minister Monica Iacob Ridzi (under whose wing President Basescu’s youngest daughter Elena launched her spectacular political career) seek reelection in the hope that parliamentary immunity will protect them from being prosecuted. The PPDD seems poised to walk in the shoes of the once vocal and popular xenophobic Greater Romania Party, which secured parliamentary representation neither in 2008 nor in 2012, but occupied a strong and secure niche from 1990 to 2008. The tiny anti-system PPDD was set up in the shortest of time not long before the local elections, launched the most aberrant campaign promises (running the gamut from paying each Romanian 20,000 Euros to reincorporating the Republic of Moldova into Greater Romania), and ran simple campaign slogans (presenting Diaconescu as “the onion in cooked food,” a staple in many Romanian kitchens). If in June some 0.9 million Romanians voted for the PPDD, in December the party gained over 1 million votes, rapidly closing the gap with the ARD (for the Senate, the ARD garnered only 155,000 more votes).

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For now, parties are waiting the redistribution, which will decide which ARD leaders gain a seat. But the ARD’s poor score already prompted some PDL leaders to resign, others to toll the bells for the “useless” and “stupid” Alliance, and still others to call for a lucid analysis of the PDL’s future plans. It will take much more for the PDL to be reborn politically. Regardless of which ARD leaders will save face by securing a seat through the back door of redistribution, these elections cemented an uneasy cohabitation between the center-right Democrat Liberal President Basescu and the left-wing Social Liberal parliamentary majority. Before the vote, Basescu threatened to refuse the nomination of Ponta as prime minister, invoking an interpretation of the Constitution unlikely to be accepted even by the evidently pro-Basescu Constitutional Court. On 27 November, Basescu claimed that the president alone can nominate the prime minister and he will not accept any party to make that decision, even when a formation secured a clear parliamentary majority. Days before the vote, Basescu again warned that the candidate for premiership must demonstrate a pro-EU and pro-NATO stance to gain his acceptance, conditions Ponta allegedly did not met. While journalists defended Basescu, his threat — which would provoke a constitutional crisis if ever translated into reality — is unlikely to block the USL’s bid to rule the country, bring the failing ARD to government, or win Basescu sympathy with Romanian voters or foreign governments. Basescu ignores the fact that no PDL leader seemingly has the guts to accept a premiership that effectively invalidates the popular vote. Whether Romanians really understand what the USL overwhelming majority means remains to be seen. Since May the alliance has provided plenty of evidence that it has no qualms in undermining the rule of law and no coherent governance program except for relentlessly criticizing President Basescu.

Note: Romanian newspapers revealed the donations collected by the main election contenders. The USL (PSD, PNL, PC, and UNPR) collected 15.5 million Lei, ARD (PDL, PFC and PNTCD) 7.7 million, and PPDD 4.1 million.

Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy Monday, Dec 10 2012 

An important conference has been organized by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Institute for National Remembrance, Poland’s preeminent transitional justice institution. More information is available here.

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Poland’s post-1989 transformation experiences have shown exactly how important it is to shape the space of civic freedoms, build a country governed by rule of law, respect human rights and develop civil society. By sharing its own experiences, Poland is becoming ever more engaged in promoting democracy and supporting democratic transformations in European neighborhood countries, as well as other among other societies which choose to follow the path of democratization.At the same time we have been increasingly active in developing the institutional infrastructure for international cooperation in the field of democracy promotion. It is no coincidence that the Permanent Secretariat of Community of Democracies was established in Warsaw. Now, as a result of a Polish initiative, the European Commission, European Parliament, the European External Action Service, and the EU member states are involved in the creating European Endowment for Democracy (EED). This fund is the first EU project dedicated only to the promotion of measures aimed at fostering an environment that encourages democratic transformations in European neighborhood countries.

Polish activities in the field of promotion of democratic values require the establishment of a permanent forum for the exchange of good practices and expertise in the evolution of democratic systems, as well as developments in that field taking place in different parts of the world, with emphasis on the European neighborhood. It is our ambition to make the Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy event act as such a forum.

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The conference is planned in the form of a recurring event which will focus on regular monitoring of the international environment to pursue democracy, as well as on creating recommendations mainly for international organizations involved in supporting democratic transformations. The first edition of the Warsaw Dialogue, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland jointly with the Institute of National Remembrance, will take place on December 14-15 in Warsaw. The forthcoming conference will concentrate on the difficult matter of democratization and systemic transformation. It will be an opportunity to strengthen the message about the establishment of the European Endowment for Democracy and stimulate a discussion on its mandate. The above initiative is addressed to all people, institutions, and organizations focusing on the promotion of democracy, rule of law and human rights.

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From the IPN site: “As many as 176 participants from 40 countries, even as far away as Zimbabwe and Chile, came to Warsaw for the first edition of the conference “Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy”. On 14-15 December at the College of Europe in Natolin they discussed the process of democratization in the modern world.

The conference “Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy”, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Institute of National Remembrance, gathered people involved in the promotion of democracy, representatives of think-tanks, NGOs, international organizations, and governments from all continents. Representatives of the Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine), the Balkan countries (Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro), Middle East (Israel, Jordan), North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt ), sub-Saharan Africa (Ethiopia, Zimbabwe) and South America (Argentina, Chile) arrived in Warsaw. Democracy is deeply inscribed in the Polish history and it is an important part of the Polish civilization heritage. In the name of solidarity, we want to share our experience, but also we want to know the experience and challenges of others. Let the Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy inaugurated today serve this purpose – said Jerzy Pomianowski, Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the start of the conference.

Discussion took place in four sessions: “From revolution to transformation. Dreams and reality”, “Transitional Justice”, “New meanings of civil society”, “Changing people’s mind for democracy”.

The moderators of the sessions were those involved in the processes of democratization in countries that are recognized democracies (United States, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Romania), as well as from countries where democracy is being built (Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt). The floor was also taken by representatives of the countries where the conditions for a democratic transition have not yet appeared (Belarus), or where it faces serious difficulties (Ukraine). The invitation to participate in the conference was also accepted by representatives of 18 Council of Europe schools of political studies from the EU neighboring countries: North Africa and the Middle East, the Balkans, Eastern Partnership countries and Russia.

Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy is another project reinforcing the so-called “Warsaw process”. It was initiated by Bronislaw Geremek and Madeleine Albright with summit of democratic states under the theme “Towards a Community of Democracies”, which took place in July 2000 in Warsaw. The establishment of the European Fund for Democracy (EED), promoted by Poland, is also a part of this process. Democratization has been a permanent part of the Polish national interest and foreign policy for many years. Polish transformational experience and willingness to share it create a strong and recognizable feature of Polish national brand in the world.”

And some info from this site: “Jerzy Pomianowski, the Polish MFA Undersecretary of State, said in an interview with charter97.org: “Warsaw Dialogue for Democracy is a new initiative that we decided to launch. The conference is a platform to discuss our efforts to promote democracy. It is not a conversation when someone explains something to others. It is a dialogue, where we want to hear one another and want to tell our opinion and experience to one another.

Warsaw is an excellent place to hold this dialogue. People from Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and other regions have come here. There are representatives of almost 40 countries. I think it’s becoming a good example, like the Community of Democracies that was founded in Poland in 2000 due to Prof. Geremek. We then proposed the European Endowment for Democracy. And now we have the conference, which will be held on a regular basis. It is what we would like to tell the world: Poland is a country that appreciates democracy and human rights. It is a subject of our international relations.

Besides the formation of Poland’s brand as a democracy promoter, it is also important for us that voices of people struggling for human rights and democracy could be heard. It is vital, because they give us signals from their side, but they sometimes don’t hear one another. It is very important that they could adopt the experience. There are many things in common between Tunis and Ukraine, Belarus and Syria, Moldova and Egypt. Sharing experience may make their work easier. We also try to help them in this task.”

Some photos are available here. Among the many news items reporting on that conference is this.