—Bianca Selejan-Guțan, PhD, Professor of Constitutional Law, “Lucian Blaga” University of Sibiu, Romania
The most recent parliamentary elections in Romania, held last month in December 2016, did not bring about many surprises. In this special report, I shall draw the picture of the general context of the elections and I shall also try to present an accurate image of Romanian society 27 years after the fall of the totalitarian regime, as far as democratic values are concerned.
In November 2015, following the tragic events from “Colectiv”, the social-democrat Government led by Victor Ponta resigned under the pressure of the massive street protests against political corruption. In these troubled circumstances, President Klaus Iohannis, elected in November 2014 after the highest turn-out since 1990, appointed a technocrat – Dacian Cioloș, a former European Commissioner for Agriculture – to form the new Government. Mr. Cioloș appointed a mainly technocratic Government, which had the task of running the country until the parliamentary elections in 2016.
The elections ended with a very low turn-out of 39.5%. This hasn’t been unusual in the last decade: the last parliamentary elections in 2012 had a 41.7% turn-out, and in 2008 it was even lower at 39.26%.
In 2016, the low turn-out was partly caused by the new electoral legislation, enacted in 2015. The new law authorized voting by mail, a novelty that did not prove successful, as very few voters expressed their will to vote this way. It also introduced some limitations to the right to vote: no more special lists for non-residents, whether abroad or in Romania; this meant that every citizen could only vote in his/her town/commune of residence.
Voters sided with the social-democrats (PSD) and their allies (a faction of the liberal party, called ALDE). Thus, the new parliamentary majority is composed of two parties: PSD (social-democratic party) with 45% and ALDE (a small party with liberal origins, “the alliance of liberal-democrats of Romania”) with 6% of the seats, in addition to the support of the organisation of the Hungarians (UDMR). The opposition comprises the PNL (National Liberal Party), the newly formed parties USR (“Union Save Romania”), PMP (“Popular Movement Party”) and the representatives of the other national minorities except the Hungarian one.
Three days after the elections, the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, held consultations about forming a new Government with the political parties that won seats in Parliament according to the preliminary results. However, the party that had gathered the most votes (PSD) refused to participate in the consultations, on grounds that the final results had not yet been confirmed and that the new Parliament had not yet been officially convened. Still, the consultations were held, and the President declared his intention to appoint only a prime ministerial candidate who had not been involved in the widespread corruption.
After the final validation of the elections, consultations with all parliamentary parties took place. The leader of the main parliamentary party, Liviu Dragnea, was ineligible for the prime ministership because he had been convicted of electoral fraud in the referendum of 2012. Dragnea was therefore forced to nominate another person, on behalf of the party, for the office. He announced the nomination of Mrs. Sevil Shhaideh, one of his most loyal collaborators. This suggests that he may become the “shadow” leader of the Government. Shhaideh is a relatively unknown member of the party, with a long-run experience in the local administration and formerly and briefly a Minister of Development in the Ponta Government in 2015. Back then, she had actually replaced Dragnea when he was forced to resign after his criminal conviction.
Shhaideh is Muslim of Turkey ethnic origin. Because of alleged national security concerns related to her husband (a Syrian with newly acquired Romanian citizenship, who had served for 20 years in the Assad Government), President Iohannis rejected her nomination in a brief announcement. He invited the parliamentary majority to make another choice.
This very concise statement of the President, which was not followed by any detailed justification, generated very different reactions from the civil and political society. The majority parties, after an emergency meeting, declared that they have good reason to start the procedure for suspending President Iohannis from office, but that they will think about “national interest” first. The new nominee was Mr. Sorin Grindeanu, who also comes from the local administration (as acting President of the Departmental Council Timis). Mr. Grindeanu was subsequently validated as a candidate by President Iohannis and, on January 4, the new Government and its programme received the vote of confidence from the Parliament.
Among the first measures announced by the new Government were tax reductions as well as salary and pension hikes. The new Minister of Justice also mentioned, during the pre-appointment hearings in the standing committees, that he envisages a law on amnesty and grace, which could be used to protect the many politicians convicted for corruption. President Iohannis expressed his firm opposition to this idea, saying that it would threaten the rule of law and democracy in Romania–values that have been consolidated since the country’s accession to the European Union 10 years ago. Iohannis also promised to fight the measure with all legal and constitutional means at his disposal.
Another controversial issue that followed the appointment of the new Government was the request introduced to the Constitutional Court by the Ombudsman (Avocatul Poporului) to hold unconstitutional of the Law on the Organisation and Functioning of the Government no. 96 of 2001, which bars those formerly convicted from becoming members of Government.
In conclusion, although the 2016 parliamentary elections were deemed to be “the fairest” of the last 27 years since the fall of the communist regime, they generated a series of controversial constitutional issues, some of which appear to threaten the fundamental values that have mattered in Romania since its accession to EU. It remains to be seen whether the new political majority will confirm these suspicions.
Suggested Citation: Bianca Selejan-Guțan, Romanian Parliamentary Elections: Special Report, Jan. 18, 2017, at: http://www.iconnectblog.com/2017/01/romanian-parliamentary-elections-special-report
 See my report on the events here http://www.iconnectblog.com/2015/11/a-new-revolution-the-recent-governmental-crisis-in-romania/
 See my report on the elections here http://www.iconnectblog.com/2014/12/special-report-on-romanias-presidential-election/
 See Bianca Selejan-Guțan, The Constitution of Romania. A Contextual Analysis, Bloomsbury/Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2016, p. 69.
 See, for details, Bianca Selejan-Guțan, op.cit., pp. 173-174; 216.