Next Sunday, on Nov 25th, Romanians will go to the polls. Not only will they vote in the long-awaited European Parliament elections, but also in a referendum on a new voting system.
One might imagine that Romania, a new EU member, gives a relatively high degree of importance to the European Parliament elections. Well, it was not exactly the case. Postponed for more than half a year, they were not at all popular among politicians from across the political spectrum. An explanation could be found in the fact that the mandate they would run for is not a regular one but only one year and a half long, without yet enjoying the financial benefits foreseen in the EP reform due in 2009.
Moreover, being elected for the European Parliament would mean being “banned” from the Romanian political scene exactly in the important electoral year 2008 (with presidential and parliamentary elections in Romania). That is why the lists of the main political parties consist of many low profile candidates, mostly unknown to the public, along with a few well-known and even controversial names which have been included to attract more votes.
By contract with the rather apathetic electoral campaign and press coverage for the EP elections, the referendum for changing the voting system into a “first past the post” system became a long debated topic. It was initiated and strongly supported by the President Traian Basescu (see a campaign picture on the left). The reasons are not entirely clear, but one can assume that, given Basescu’s bad experiences with coalition partners, he is in favor of clear majorities and the reduction of small parties. Especially in the light of the upcoming parliamentary elections next year the change of the voting system might help PD to win the elections with a comfortable majority. The outcome of the referendum might be a success for the charismatic President mainly because of his popularity.
Having clear majorities is indeed desirable for the Romanian political system, but it is questionable whether the proposed electoral reform is enough to change the political landscape. What Romania really needs is a far-reaching constitutional reform that transforms the bicameral system into a unicameral one. Even the semi-presidential system as such should be revisited because clear majorities would even work better with clearly divided powers and responsibilities.