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December 2, 2020

Europe

ROMANIA: General election will strengthen PNL-led government

BY Andrius Tursa

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( 4 mins)
  • The ruling PNL party is expected to win the 6 December general election despite the government’s recent challenges in coping with the second wave of Covid-19.
  • PNL’s most likely coalition partners include the liberal USR-PLUS alliance and conservative PMP.
  • A new PNL-led government with a reinforced position in parliament would be positive news from the economic and fiscal perspectives.

Nearly 19mn citizens have the right to participate in the 6 December general vote to elect 312 deputies to the Chamber of Deputies (lower house of parliament) and 136 representatives to the Senate (upper house of parliament) through a closed-list proportional system. Up to 19 additional deputy seats in the lower chamber are reserved for the representatives of recognized ethnic minorities. Elections will be held in 43 multi-member constituencies, including 41 counties, the capital Bucharest and a separate constituency for citizens living abroad. Individual parties must pass the 5% threshold or receive more than 20% of votes in at least four constituencies to be represented. The threshold for multi-party alliances is 8-10%, depending on the number of subjects involved.

The ruling center-right National Liberal Party (PNL) remains a favorite to win the vote. The party (or its backed candidates) has won three electoral contests (EP, presidential and local) during the past 18 months and continues to lead in opinion polls. Public support for PNL averages 32%, which is around six percentage points ahead of the opposition center-left Social Democratic Party (PSD). The liberal alliance of Save Romania Union (USR) and the Party of Liberty, Unity, and Solidarity (PLUS) polls in a strong third place with 15-16%. Three other lists could enter parliament, including the center-left PRO Romania Social Liberal (PRO), the conservative People’s Movement Party (PMP), and the national minority Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR).

However, the PNL’s performance might be somewhat weaker than suggested by the polls. In recent weeks, the Ludovic Orban (PNL) government has been facing criticism over the failure to sufficiently prepare for and contain the second wave of Covid-19. For example, the government’s decision to close-down indoor farmers’ markets while keeping shopping malls and supermarkets open was rather unpopular and poorly communicated. A deadly fire at an overcrowded hospital treating Covid-19 patients in mid-November highlighted wider healthcare sector challenges. It also brought back memories of the 2015 fire at a nightclub, which triggered the fall of the Victor Ponta government. Turnout will be an important variable, with higher participation favoring the PNL as well as USR-PLUS; a lower turnout would, in contrast, be beneficial to PSD.

Even if PNL and PSD end up winning a similar number of seats, the former would still be better-positioned to form the next government. Unless any list gets an absolute majority of votes (which is unlikely), the president can nominate any candidate to form the next cabinet. Given President Klaus Iohannis’s close links to the PNL, his first choice will likely be the incumbent. PNL also has more potential coalition partners, including the USR-PLUS, PMP, and potentially, UDMR, while the PSD could be expected to partner only with PRO and, possibly, UDMR.

A new PNL-led government with a reinforced position in parliament would be positive news from the economic and fiscal perspectives. Besides the continued handling of the pandemic, one of the main near-term priorities would be to postpone the pension and public sector wage hikes pushed through by the PSD-led parliament in recent months.

Another immediate priority will be the Covid-19 vaccination plan’s approval – expected still in 2020 – and its implementation, especially given public skepticism towards hastily developed new vaccines. On the economic front, the recently presented draft national resilience and recovery plan offers a blueprint for post-pandemic economic priorities, with the focus placed on large scale transportation and environmental infrastructure projects. Meanwhile, the PNL’s likely coalition partners in the government would place greater emphasis on anti-corruption efforts and public sector reforms.

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