Romania’s ruling Liberal party is the favorite to win a parliamentary election that will restore political stability to the East European country which has seen massive anti-government protests and five prime ministers in four years.
Voter turnout will be crucial to the results, with a low turnout favoring better score for the Social Democratic Party, which currently has most seats in Parliament and has dominated politics since communism ended.
However even with the center-right Liberals polling better than the populist Social Democrats, they are unlikely to secure an outright majority and will most likely have to form a coalition with the relatively new Save Romania Union-Plus group which is polling about 20%.
Clannish and non-transparent
The two parties are a mixture of younger pro-European, progressive and anti-corruption politicians who are disillusioned with and seek to reform the clannish and non-transparent style of Romanian politics.
The Social Democrats won the previous elections but lost support over their moves to weaken the anti-corruption fight and protect senior members facing graft charges. The changes sparked the largest protests since 1989.
Overspending, cronyism, bureaucracy
Overspending, cronyism and a failure to reform an excessively bureaucratic state administration moved Romania’s biggest party away from the European Union mainstream, critics said. However, it remains popular in rural areas, with the elderly, and among European skeptics.
The Liberals were the largest beneficiary in the loss of support for the Social Democrats. They stepped into office in Nov. 2019 after Parliament dismissed the Social Democrats in a no-confidence vote.
Prime Minister Ludovic Orban has headed a minority government since then. However, the Liberals have lost support in the past month due to growing fatigue with the coronavirus pandemic, restrictions, and the effects of the economic downturn caused by the health crisis.
Romania is set to end 2020 with an economy that has shrunk by 4.2 per cent and a deficit of over nine percent of Gross Domestic Product.
The Save Romanian Union-Plus group shares some values with the Liberals such as a pro-market and pro-European outlook, but there is also animosity between the sides particularly with the Liberals’ conservative wing which is currently dominant.
New premier, old premier
Unless the Social Democrats do much better than expected, the Liberals are likely to nominate the prime minister, which is almost certain to be party leader Ludovic Orban.
The coronavirus pandemic and the vaccine program will be the most pressing issues for the new government. Other priorities are investing in the underfunded healthcare system, income taxes, inflated pensions paid to former civil servants, and a ban on those convicted of corruption from holding public office.
The Liberals are helped by President Klaus Iohannis, a former Liberal leader, who is seen as a counterweight to populist leaders in Hungary and Poland and a guarantee for Brussels and Washington that Romania will remain in the pro-EU and pro-US camp.
Voters will elect 136 lawmakers in the Senate and 329 in the Chamber of Deputies.