Who wins and who loses from the merging of local elections with…

Ciolacu Ciuca Iohannis - Sursa foto: Ilona Andrei G4 media , Colaj

Who wins and who loses from the merging of local elections with European parliamentary elections / Key move for Marcel Ciolacu and Nicolae Ciucă

The primary victors of the decision to consolidate local elections with European parliamentary elections are, unequivocally, Marcel Ciolacu and Nicolae Ciucă, even before their respective parties, PSD and PNL. By opting for joint lists in the European elections and merging them with local elections, these two leaders ensure their leadership positions are beyond dispute. Had they chosen to run separately, PSD faced a real risk of dropping below the psychological threshold of 30%, and PNL under 20%. Moreover, decoupling local elections from those for the European Parliament would have seen a dramatic decline in their percentages, absent the super-mobilization of local elected officials. European elections alone seldom generate significant enthusiasm anywhere.

However, by participating on joint lists in the European elections, the contributions of both parties to the final score become diluted. A result exceeding 40% is anticipated, yet it becomes indistinct and challenging to measure how much PNL and PSD contributed individually. Nevertheless, it will be apparent to all that the alliance between the two parties has won the elections by a significant margin, likely securing about half of the 33 MEP seats available. This represents the first major electoral test for the party heads. In the event of a poor outcome, Ciucă and Ciolacu would have been accountable. Now, accountable for what? For their parties collectively securing over 40% and winning the European elections by a wide margin? With this, Marcel Ciolacu and Nicolae Ciucă have solidified their leadership positions within their parties.

Another gain, this time for both parties, will be realized through the electoral system employed for the European parliamentary elections, which favors parties or alliances with large percentages in the redistribution process. The system does not waste the percentages of parties failing to enter the European Parliament (the national threshold applies) but redistributes them using an algorithm that benefits parties with good results. This is the so-called D’Hondt method, ensuring proportional representation for parties. Thus, if UDMR fails to meet the 5% electoral threshold, the PSD-PNL Alliance could additionally secure one or two of the mandates that would normally go to the Hungarian ethnic group.

President Klaus Iohannis also emerges as a beneficiary of this move. His ambition for a significant position within the EU or NATO hinges on internal stability. His nomination for a major role abroad depends on the Government and the Prime Minister; it cannot proceed without internal political support. In a scenario where PNL breaks away from PSD amid electoral battles risking coalition rupture, an internal political crisis would have diminished his chances of being supported for a prominent position in Brussels, where he needs both internal political backing and broad acceptance among major political groups in Brussels. It is unclear if the insistence on joint lists originates from Cotroceni, given the president’s significant interest in pursuing an international career after his term ends. It wouldn’t be the first instance of President Iohannis sacrificing PNL for his personal interest, based on very personal calculations.

The question remains whether the Liberals might lose the sympathy of a portion of their electorate. For some voters, it will be challenging to cast their vote for a list that includes PSD candidates. This risk is evident, and it’s very possible that some Liberal sympathizers will balk and shift their support towards the United Right Alliance (USR, PMP, and the Right Force). The extent of these losses and whether they will be visibly reflected in percentages remain to be seen. Voters of both parties have somewhat accepted that the former adversaries govern together, but will they unhesitatingly mark the ballot for a joint list featuring, side by side, Siegfried Mureșan (PNL) and Mihai Tudose (PSD), Rareș Bogdan and Maria Grapini (Dan Voiculescu), Dan Motreanu (PNL), and Claudiu Manda (PSD)?

Some will argue it no longer matters, that the differences have faded in the nearly three years of joint governance without major upheavals. First and foremost, PSD and PNL are parties of networks (mayors, local councilors) and political patronage, rather than of true believers. Liberals committed to right-wing values and Social Democrats who would die on the altar of the left are few and far between. However, there are voters for whom these differences still matter, especially among PNL sympathizers. How many remain? Time will tell.

The clear losers of the election consolidation, however, are the two opposition parties, USR and AUR. Neither has a network of mayors and local elected officials to chase votes and mobilize voters. Local officials have every incentive to perform well in elections, implicitly supporting the European elections as well. Faced with the super-mobilization of armies of mayors from PSD and PNL, the opposition will suffer significant losses.

This is precisely why USR vehemently criticizes the election consolidation, presenting it as a crime against democracy. The leader of the extremist party AUR, George Simion, has already revised his electoral forecast. He announced that, in the event of consolidated elections, the party is expected to secure a maximum of 9 MEPs, as opposed to the 12 he initially hoped for. Add to this the fact that single-round elections do not favor opposition parties anyway. PSD and PNL may support common candidates in cities and localities with USR mayors, even though they have agreed in principle to run separately in local elections.

As for UDMR, they are somewhere in the middle in the discussion of winners and losers. UDMR theoretically benefits from the consolidation because it has numerous mayors in Transylvania (around 200). Had the European elections been held separately from the local ones, it would have been even harder for Hungarian leaders than for Romanian politicians to mobilize the electorate due to the anti-Brussels FIDESZ propaganda that has contaminated both UDMR and the Hungarian community. However, local elections have a slight peculiarity for Hungarians: most candidates have no competitors, especially in areas predominantly inhabited by Hungarians (Harghita and Covasna). In the absence of political competition, the mobilization generated by mayors is less significant for UDMR in the economy of consolidated elections. It matters, but not as much as for PNL or PSD.

Therefore, UDMR fears it will miss the electoral threshold and fail to send anyone to Brussels, amid the super-mobilization of the Romanian electorate. In the last European elections of 2019, UDMR barely passed the electoral threshold with 5.2%.

In conclusion, the consolidation of elections and the participation of PNL and PSD on joint lists in the European elections seem to be a top-down move, primarily based on the interests of the leaders (Ciucă, Ciolacu, Iohannis) and not the voters, nor even the will of the party base. This significant distortion of voter options undoubtedly represents a democratic backslide. Everything we see now reflects the current leaders of PSD and PNL’s determination to obtain political legitimacy (through as good a score as possible, even if artificially achieved) and to continue governing after 2024.

It remains to be seen whether the PSD-PNL Alliance at the European elections is also an electoral test that may presage a long-term consolidated alliance. Let’s not forget for a second what keeps these two major parties together, beyond the grandiose speeches about internal stability, war at the border, and political responsibility: the billions from the EU and the national budget, access to resources, in full complicity with a significant part of the press.

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