Photo: Adevarul


The results of December 9th 2012 Romanian elections for the two Houses of Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, appear to validate what opinion polls were registering during the electoral campaign. The governing coalition of PM Victor Ponta won a sweeping majority, with the serious perspectives of profound changes of Romanian politics and a redrafting of the existing constitution in store.

Published on on December 12, 2012

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The results of December 9th 2012 Romanian elections for the two Houses of Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate,  appear to validate what opinion polls were registering during the electoral campaign. The governing coalition of PM Victor Ponta won a sweeping majority, with the serious perspectives of profound changes of Romanian politics and a redrafting of the existing constitution in store.

These elections were the second time when a “mixed member proportional representation electoral” system was in place, and consecrated the previously established electoral colleges, which represent sub-county level constituencies. The electoral threshold of 5 per cent for each chamber was also confirmed; however, the rule is circumvented if a party wins a minimum of six electoral colleges for the Chamber of Deputies and three colleges for the Senate with over 50 per cent. What is specific to this electoral system is that a candidate that receives more than 50 per cent of the votes in an electoral college receives all the votes. If no candidate wins a majority, the mandates are subsequently allocated through the D’Hondt method; if required, an extra number of seats for each chamber of Parliament might be allocated.  It has already been speculated that the future Romanian legislative might have around 550 MPs as a direct consequence of this rule[1]. In addition to this, there are a certain number of seats allocated exclusively for the representatives of the legally acknowledged national minorities in the Chamber of Deputies (in total, 18 MPs)[2].

The voter turnout was higher than in the previous Parliamentary elections in November 2008 – when a meager 39.3 per cent of registered voters were present at the ballot boxes (35.6 per cent in the cities, and a slightly better turnout of 44.2 per cent in the rural areas[3] ).  These elections were better attended, with an average of 41.7 per cent participation rate – 40.5 per cent in the cities, respectively 43.4 per cent in the rural areas[4].  The low electoral participation is telling for the lack of support of the two Houses of Parliament. It is indicative of the perceived remoteness of political elite (regardless of its ideological convictions) from the hardships of average citizens in Romania[5].


At present, the most important  political constellation in Romanian politics is the Social Liberal Union (USL/ Uniunea Social Liberală) consisting of the PM Ponta’s Romanian Social Democrats (PSD/ Partidul Social Democrat) and their allies the Center Right Alliance (ACD/ Alianţa de Centru Dreapta), which reunites the National Liberal Party (PNL/ Partidul Naţional Liberal) and the Conservative Party (PC/ Partidul Conservator). The USL was formed in February 2011 with the aim to seize power from the then center-right conservative government, which was deemed to be under the tutelage of President Traian Băsescu. After a tumultuous beginning of 2012 when two center-right conservative governments fell, the USL eventually succeeded to form a governing coalition under the premiership of the PSD leader Ponta.

Subsequently, the USL registered a very good result in the local elections of June 10th 2012: 45.9 per cent for presidents of county councils; 38.5 per cent for mayors; 49.8 per cent for members of county councils[6]. However, when these results are compared to the previous 2008 local elections, the constitutive political parties of said alliance (namely, the PSD, the PNL, and the PC) have registered better results individually, totaling around 51 per cent[7]. In the aftermath of local elections in July 2012 the PSD entered a political alliance with its break-away wing, which had previously made the center-right conservative government possible, namely the National Union for Romania’s Progress (UNPR/ Uniunea Națională pentru Progresul României). The alliance was named the Center Left Alliance (ACS/ Alianţa de Centru Stânga)[8]. The two main parties in the USL alliance, namely the PSD and PNL appear to apply the principle of strict parity among themselves (despite the generally better score in polls by the former); thereby the appellation of the USL as a center-left coalition is not totally accurate.

The political party occupying the right wing in the Romanian party system, the conservative Democratic Liberal Party (PDL/ Partidul Democrat-Liberal) registered a dip in electoral support in the local elections in June 2012, polling only 15.1 per cent for presidents of county councils; 15.4 per cent for mayors; 15.3 per cent for members of county councils[9]. The party was electorally punished, not necessarily for the austerity measures during the PDL-led cabinets of Emil Boc I (2008 – 2009), and especially Boc II (2009 – 2012) and the short-lived cabinet of Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu (February – May 2012), but mainly for its complete lack of sympathy for the hardships the average population has been going through from the beginning of the financial crisis, for its undisguised corruption, and contempt for the principles of democratic accountability.

By the end of September 2012, the newly elected PDL chair Vasile Blaga announced the creation of a political alliance reuniting the PDL, the Civic Force (FC/ Forța Civică), the pocket–party of former-PM Ungureanu, and a faction of the Christian–Democratic National Peasants’ Party (PNT-CD/ Partidul Naţional Ţărănesc-Creştin Democrat). The alliance was titled the Right (or Just) Romania Alliance (ARD/ Alianța România Dreaptă). The ARD had from the beginning a major handicap in the electoral competition: in a party-internal internal survey made in September 2012 the ARD scored somewhere around 22 to 24 per cent, which is far below the 48 per cent registered by the USL in the same poll[10]. Already by October 2012, the polls registered a serious decrease in support for the ARD among the Romanian voters with only 16 per cent, even below the PDL’s support[11].

A new political formation, the People’s Party-Dan Diaconescu (PP-DD/ Partidul Poporului Dan Diaconescu), challenged the Romanian party political establishment and established itself as the third largest party. The PP-DD polled 9.2 per cent for presidents of county councils; 7.3 per cent for mayors; 9 per cent for members of county councils in the local elections in June 2012[12]. The PP-DD is the product of eponymous TV-channel owner Dan Diaconescu. Diaconescu has, more or less single-handedly, founded the party and established a nation-wide network of party branches. At a quick glance, the PP-DD appears to have a rather complex ideological makeup displaying strong populist appeals, such as social justice to be undertaken in the framework of a strong state, which reminds of the former communist state. All the previous governments are criticized for having mismanaged the country by their confiscation of illicit fortunes gained from pillaging the public goods. The party has taken some surprising neoliberal opinions, such as tax cuts, and tax simplification[13].  These political appeals are tinged with discrete nationalist appeals (the numerous and insistent references to supporting “Romanianism”, respecting the Romanian national anthem, subscription to Romanian Orthodox Christianity, etc.)[14].

Inspected more closely, however, the PP-DD political agenda displays strong similarities with that of the consecrated radical right populist party in Romania, namely the Greater Romania Party (PRM/ Partidul România Mare). In particular, it echoes the PRM successful political campaign in the 2000 parliamentary and presidential elections as the party at that point of time were strongly personalized by the party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor[15]. Another similarity lies in that the PP-DD candidates had their candidacy endorsed “on air” at the TV station owned by Diaconescu (OTV). Consequently, the PP-DD can be classified as an emerging radical right populist party, with a strong (male) leader that gives his formal ‘blessing’ to his acolytes live on TV. In this light, if in 2000 Tudor had a very influential weekly magazine at his disposal to maneuver his captive electorate, in 2012 Diaconescu has taken the process to a new level, having his own TV station. It is worth mentioning that the PRM appears to have lost most of its raison d’être, with Tudor comfortably enjoying the perks of being a Romanian representative in the European Parliament, thereby away from the forefront of Romanian national politics and the party’s rank and file left in a profound disarray as a direct consequence of his absence.

Last but not least, another consecrated presence in Romanian politics has been the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR/ Uniunea Democrată Maghiară din România, RMDSZ/ Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség) fighting for political survival. The party has traditionally represented the political interests of the Hungarian minority in Romania, the only ethnic party that competes in direct elections with the political parties of the Romanian ethnic majority. In the local elections in June 2012, the UDMR/ RMDSZ narrowly managed to fend off the negative effects of being in government for most of the past decade, and even succeeded to portray itself as a moderate and rational alternative in when compared to the radicalized nationalist escalations sponsored by the center-right conservative government of PM Viktor Orbán from Hungary – particularly the Hungarian Popular Party of Transylvania (PPMT/ Partidul Popular Maghiar din Transilvania, EMN/ Erdélyi Magyar Néppárt). As such, the UDMR/ RMDSZ experienced some loses, but succeeded to collect 5 per cent of the votes for presidents of county councils; 3.90 per cent for mayors; 5.5  per cent for members of county councils[16]


In this context, two competing events, which took place concomitantly in the capital Bucharest, signaled the start of the election campaign. The first, which was organized on October 18th 2012 on the National Arena in the presence of approximately 70.000 supporters, marked the official launch of the USL candidates in the presence of PM Ponta (PSD) and President of Senate Crin Antonescu (PNL). In a parallel event housed in the Palace of Parliament, the ARD candidates were officially presented within the larger framework of the congress of European People’s Party (EPP), to which the PDL is affiliated[17]. President Băsescu attended the latter event, which increased the level of conflict between the two branches of Romanian executive[18]. The ensuing campaign promised to be articulated along two clear cleavage lines: anti-austerity measures and redistribution vs. budget streamlining and financial discipline; renegotiation and rearrangement of powers (at times at the fringes of legality) of various public institutions vs. strengthening of the presidential institution as a guarantor of division of powers in the state.

These notwithstanding, the media monitoring agency ActiveWatch, in its comprehensive analysis undertaken between November 9th and November 22nd 2012, which was supposed to be the most effervescent period during the electoral campaign, reached the conclusion that the campaign were vague electoral messages with little if any relevance to the ongoing public debate, which was dominated by the interventions of President Băsescu. More clearly, during the monitored period attention was monopolized by the dispute between President Băsescu and PM Ponta; the question of who were entitled to represent the country at the EU summit in late November 2012; and the eventual position Romania could afford in the context of ongoing negotiations with regard to the 2014–2020 EU budget. Illustrative of their parti pris, the TV channels Antena 3 and Realitatea TV have presented only the USL candidates (four, respectively three live presentations), while the B1TV had a clear preference for the center-right conservative candidates (nine live presentations of the ARD, and only three of the USL candidates); at the same time, the PP-DD candidates have been presented most often on its leader’s own OTV (55 out a total of 60 live presentations).  The state television TVR1 had eleven live presentations, evenly distributed among the main political alliances and parties. As such, the USL candidates accumulated a total of 209 TV appearances, whilst the ARD had 157 appearances. Third were the PP-DD candidates, with 129 TV appearances, and at a significant difference were the candidates of the UDMR/ RMDSZ with 32, and respectively the PRM with only 22[19].


From the provisional final data released by the Central Electoral Bureau (BEC/ Biroul Electoral Central) the USL is the undisputed winner of the present electoral competition, polling 58.6 per cent of the votes for the Chamber of Deputies, respectively 60.10 per cent for the Senate. Trailing behind, the ARD polled 16.5 per cent for the Chamber of Deputies, respectively 16.7 per cent of the votes for the Senate. The PP-DD has been confirmed as the third largest entity in Romanian politics, receiving 13.99 per cent of the votes for the Chamber of Deputies, respectively 14.7 per cent for the Senate. In turn, the UDMR/ RMDSZ has succeeded to mobilize its electorate and has passed the 5 per cent electoral threshold, polling 5.1 per cent for the Chamber of Deputies, and 5.2 per cent for the Senate, respectively. Bellow the threshold, the PRM polled only 1.2 per cent for the Chamber of Deputies, respectively 1.5 per cent for the Senate, in a sense confirming the downward spiral the party experienced in the previous parliamentary elections. The other main political party competing for the votes of the Hungarian minority, the PPMT/ EMN was not successful polling only 0.6 per cent for the Chamber of Deputies, respectively 0.8 per cent for the Senate[20]. At the moment, it seems that PM Ponta has successfully secured a seat in the incoming legislature, whilst his direct counter-candidate, the PP-DD leader Diaconescu has not received sufficient votes for a mandate. For the ARD leadership the results are cold shower, with both the PDL chair Blaga and the FC leader Ungureanu failing to poll a majority of votes in their respective electoral colleges, and thereby constrained to wait for the redistribution of seats for the future Senate.

How the percentages above are to be translated into MPs in the new Romanian legislative remains to be established. However, one of the surprising effects of the December 9th 2012 elections is that the number of Romanian MPs will definitely increase. It will be a significant increase, at that – a bitter irony, having in mind that on November 22nd 2009 some 77 per cent of the voters (50.2 per cent of the Romanian population with a voting right) supported the initiative to reduce the two Houses of Parliament to a maximum of 300 MPs[21]. Even more so, as the preliminary data from the 2011 census have indicated, the total population in Romania has shrunk significantly, and consequently the body of electors. The Ponta government has nonetheless chosen to enter the electoral competition based on old census data, which were employed for the 2008 parliamentary elections. The immediate consequence is that the new legislative will increase with an excess of between 50 to 80, or even 100 MPs, and likely result in a total number of 550, or even 580 MPs[22]. It is yet uncertain how this can be explained to the average citizens who, for the past years, have witnessed a continuous depreciation of their living standard, and have been told continuously by the political elite that the state budget is limited.

Another uncertain issue is the composition of the future government and the name of next PM. President Băsescu has indicated in several occasions that he does not regard the PSD leader Ponta as a suitable PM, although the undisputable electoral victory of the USL might constrain President Băsescu to reconsider his stance.  The future PM and government will have to address the worsening of Romanian economy, and the need to rein in corruption; reply to the constant critique voiced by the EU bodies with regard to the meager percentage of absorption of the allocated funds, and the issue of respecting the democratic system of checks and balances.

Post Scriptum:
According to the latest data provided by the BEC, the Romanian Houses of Parliament are to increase to an unprecedented 588 MPs (160 MPs more than the previous Legislature). More clearly, the USL has a total of 395 MPs, the ARD has 80 MPs, the PP-DD 68 MPs, whilst UDMR/ RMDSZ 27 MPs. In addition to these, the Chamber of Deputies has 18 MP seats reserved for the representatives of legally acknowledged national minorities in Romania (see detailed information in the table below)! 

Political entities Chamber of Deputies Romanian Senate
Alliance Party Votes (%) Seats Votes (%) Seats
USL   PSD 58.63 273 60.10 122
ARD   PDL 16.50 56 16.70 24
  PP-DD   13.99 47 14.65 21
UDMR/RMDSZ   5.13 18 5.23 9
PRM   1.24 1.47
PPMT/ EMN   0.64 0.79
Minorities   18  

Figure1. Romanian 2012 Parliamentary elections (data as of December 12th 2012) ©Norocel


  1., accessed on 2012-12-11.  
  2. William Downs, “The 2008 parliamentary election in Romania”, Electoral Studies 28(3) (2009), p. 511.
  3., accessed on 2012-12-11.  
  4., accessed on 2012-12-11.  
  5., accessed on 2012-12-11.  
  6., accessed on 2012-12-11.
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  8., accessed on 2012-12-11.  
  9., accessed on 2012-12-11.
  10., accessed on 2012-12-11.  
  11., accessed on 2012-12-11.  
  12., accessed on 2012-12-11.
  13., accessed on 2012-12-11.  
  14., accessed on 2012-12-11.  
  15. Cf. Tom Gallagher, Theft of a Nation. Romania since Communism, London, UK (2005): Hurst & Company, p. 272; Ov Cristian Norocel, “Heteronormative Constructions of Romanianness: A Genealogy of Gendered Metaphors in Romanian Radical-Right Populism 2000–2009”, Debatte: Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe 19(1-2) (2011), p. 454; Paul E Sum, “The radical right in Romania: Political party evolution and the distancing of Romania from Europe”, Communist and Post–Communist Studies 43(1) (2010), p. 27.
  16., accessed on 2012-12-11.  
  17., accessed on 2012-12-11.  
  18. In an earlier move, PM Ponta and the USL have attempted to impeach President Băsescu in July 2012. However, the referendum failed to meet the required turnout and consequently Băsescu has been returned his presidential prerogatives. The tensions were nonetheless far from over. In the aftermath of the December elections, President Băsescu has been hinting that he might nominate someone else than PM Ponta as the future prime minister, even if the USL would be confirmed the victors., accessed on 2012-12-11.
  19., accessed on 2012-12-11.
  20., accessed on 2012-12-11.
  21., accessed on 2012-12-11.
  22., accessed on 2012-12-11.
  • by Cristian Norocel

    Is affiliated postdoctoral researcher to the Centre for Research on Ethnic Relations and Nationalism (CEREN), in the University of Helsinki (Finland), and adjunct Senior Lecturer at the Department of Political Science, in Stockholm University (Sweden).

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