By Marcel Gascón Barberá
Romania’s centre-right president Klaus Iohannis on Monday said he would not ask the Social Democratic Party, PSD, to form a government despite coming first in Sunday’s legislative elections.
The SDP scored an unexpected victory, coming first with around 30 per cent of the votes. The ruling centre-right National Liberals, PNL, came second with some 26 per cent. The centrist Save Romania Union, USR PLUS alliance polled another 16 per cent.
Only 31.84 per cent of registered voters cast ballots on Sunday, the lowest ever turnout registered in an election since Romania restored a multi-party system in 1989.
Experts blamed the pandemic, but also general disenchantment with politics for this record level of absenteeism.
The problem for the PSD, however, was not the turnout but the fact that the party has no obvious allies in parliament, which makes it very unlikely that it can rally enough support among MPs to install a prime minister from its ranks.
Sunday’s results were a major disappointment for the PNL and USR PLUS, as both parties campaigned with a strong anti-PSD message and expected to secure a much larger majority to undo the legacy of the previous Social Democratic government.
The PSD ran the country between 2017 and October 2019, when the cabinet was ousted in a vote of no confidence.
As he had announced before the elections, President Iohannis called on the centre-right and centre parties to build a coalition that will most likely be led by the ruling PNL and will bring on board USR PLUS and other like-minded forces.
Iohannis admitted that many Romanians were disappointed with the ruling party he supported. But he proclaimed centre-right parties the winners of the elections.“It is clear, if we combine these results, that the centre-right parties together obtained over 50 per cent of the votes,” said Iohannis, presumably referring to the PNL, USR PLUS, the Democratic Union of the Hungarians in Romania, UDMR, former president Traian Basescu’s party and candidates representing national minorities.
Both the PNL and USR had campaigned on promises to reinforce the justice system’s independence, which the former PSD government was accused of undermining through a controversial set of changes that drew harsh criticism from Brussels as well as from the opposition in Romania.
The two parties also share a belief in the need for fiscal restraint. This is in contrast with the PSD which, even in the middle of the pandemic crisis, defended its policy of big hikes in public sector pay and pensions; in government, its policies fuelled robust economic growth but also ballooned the budget deficit.