After a series of muddled compromises in Parliament, Romania has found itself with a butchered system for its next general election which has pleased none of the parties and throws the future of every politician into question.
This is a mixture of the British system where each MP represents a distinct constituency and proportional representation, where the national vote for a party is also taken into account. To stand for a constituency each Romanian politician needs to bring a suitcase of cash to his or her party – understood to be between 3,000 Euro well into the high 10,000s. Parties are also approaching gymnasts, cosmonauts and singers to stand for election, hoping a famous representative in Parliament will impress people into voting for them. Therefore to candidate a politician needs wealth, a rich benefactor or a career in television. This will create a new Parliament of plutocrats, puppets and celebrities.
This may be an improvement on the current state of affairs. On the plus side, the vote opens the candidates up to further scrutiny. The list system which dominated Romanian politics for 19 years meant candidates could not be held accountable by the electorate. This parliamentary anonymity encouraged apathy and corruption.
Now every MP has to be visible on a campaign trail in cold and miserable November. As we went to press, many of the senior Parliamentarians were dropping out – such as ex-president Iliescu. But others may not be aware that a campaign is tough. Once some celebrities realise that standing for election in Salaj does not fit in between a chat-show appearance and a Botox appointment, they may back-out.
Speaking as someone who has worked the streets to help an MP win an election, this is a depressing trial that requires an army of supporters. Candidates need to move from door to door listening to every citizen’s complaints, which range from their neighbour’s cat pooing on their front porch to the abuse of Islamic prisoners in Abu Ghraib.
This process will be a gift for reporters and citizen journalists. Candidates parachuted into unfamiliar towns to “represent the people” will be caught on mobile-phone cameras showing zero local knowledge and an absence of sympathy with peasants and pensioners.
Now parties are aiming to stand MPs in areas where they scored well in local elections. But this may backfire. Currently the heads of the National Liberal Party (PNL), Calin Popescu Tariceanu, Minister of Transport Ludovic Orban and Chamber of Deputies president Bogdan Olteanu are scrambling to stand in Sector 1 in Bucharest because the district mayor here is in the PNL. But in general elections people in Bucharest more often vote on party lines and national issues. It is also patronising to believe that the capital’s citizens are divided by Sector borders into voting for one party or another.
Many senior MPs are trying to secure seats in Bucharest or Prahova – at home or where they have a villa. But these places will be the most open to media scrutiny because they are within driving distance of the capital. It would be better for top MPs to candidate in the middle of nowhere, which is what happens in the UK. Tony Blair never held a seat in London – the electorate is unpredictable in the big city.
In the countryside, patronage and bribery can also be covered up and a vote can be bought for 100 Euro, as opposed to Bucharest’s suburbs, where the going rate is 1,000 Euro. In the capital or Prahova the celebrity candidate may not impress a public used to rubbing shoulders with the glitterati – unless Brad Pitt candidates for the Social Democrats in Campina or the New Generation Party convinces Victoria Beckham to stand in Berceni.
By Michael Bird