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The local elections - a big question mark for analysts and the foreign media

On June 5th, 2016, Romanians voted to choose their representatives in the local public administration, which consists of:

  • 3,186 town halls (including Bucharest's General Municipality and the city's six district town halls)

  • 3,186 Local Councils (including the local councils of Bucharest's six districts, or "sectors")

  • 41 County Councils (one for each of the 41 counties of Romania) + the General Council of Bucharest.

Voter turnout:

According to the results of the Central Electoral Bureau, more than half of Romanians of voting age voted in the local elections. The results are as follows:

  • Voter turnout for mayoral elections – 50,73%

  • Voter turnout for local councils elections – 50,73%

  • Voter turnout for County Councils – 49,81%

Voter turnout was highest in counties largely dominated by the Social Democrats (where most national leaders of the party come from), while the lowest was recorded in ethnically Hungarian counties and in Sibiu county (President Klaus Iohannis's electoral stronghold).

In Bucharest, voter turnout was 33.09% - the lowest in the country.

Election results (NOTE: as of writing this report, we used the official partial results of June 7, 2016, accounting for about 99% of the ballots cast):

In both nominal and percentage terms, PSD (the Social Democrat Party) is the de facto winner of the local elections, having secured 37.62% of the votes in mayoral elections, 36.15% of the votes cast for the Local Councils, and 37,55% of the votes for County Councils.

The surprise of the local elections (maybe even the moral winner) is USB (Save Bucharest Union), a party officially founded only six months ago, but which nonetheless managed to come in second in Bucharest. USB's candidate for Bucharest's City Hall, Nicușor Dan, received a little over 30% of the votes cast, and his party got 25.19% of the votes for the General Council of Bucharest.

The symbolic loser of these elections is PNL (the National Liberal Party), the party supporting president Iohannis, which ranked third in Bucharest and second countrywide (winning about 30-33% of town halls, local and county councils).

ALDE, the party of the current president of the Senate Călin Popescu Tăriceanu (a former president of PNL and prime minister of Romania between 2005 and 2008), an outspoken critic of DNA (the National Anti-Corruption Directorate) and of the Minister of Justice, took the third place in mayoral and local council races, with an average score of 6%....

The main findings concerning the 2016 local elections

The internal reforms of political parties were postponed for electoral reasons. The local elections of 2016 were politicians' first electoral test after the fall of a political cabinet succeeded by a technocrat government. In November 2015, after the incident at Colectiv Club, the political parties took a step back in answer to the demands of the street, and allowed the installation of a technocrat government on the firm promise to come before the voters with a new leadership - young, credible people, above any suspicion of corruption and free from any legal trouble. The leaders of both PSD and PNL promised deep changes within their parties, the enforcement of strict criteria for the selection of candidates, abandoning corrupt party members, and promoting credible figures in the local and general elections of 2016.

But the reality was starkly different. Neither PSD nor PNL managed to reform themselves so that they could keep the commitment they made in autumn 2015. Even more, the president of PSD, Liviu Dragnea, who received a suspended prison sentence in a case of electoral fraud related to the 2012 referendum for the removal of the country's president, kept his seat at the helm of the party, even despite internal as well as outside pressures to step down. We remind that the incumbent president of the Chamber of Deputies, Valeriu Zgonea, was expelled from PSD after criticizing his party's president, and now faces removal from his office of president of the lower house, after the Social-Democrats have announced they no longer support him…

The first-past-the-post local elections favored PSD. The first-past-the-post local elections maximized the chances of incumbent mayors (half of mayoral seats nationwide being held by PSD until June 5th) and minimized the chances of challengers, of new candidates, who did not have the needed logistics to get out the vote. Two-round elections have the advantage of raising the profile of second-chance candidates in the first round and their credibility in the second round. In the two weeks between the two rounds the voters' attention focuses on the two best placed candidates (incumbent and challenger), not on 7 or 13 candidates, and a well-thought electoral agenda may give the challenger more chances to succeed than in first-past-the-post systems…

Those mayors under criminal investigations or already convicted were the big election winners. It is almost inexplicable that a quarter of the major cities (12 out of 41) were won by candidates who are either convicted or are being investigated on criminal charges…

The left consolidates, the right is fragmented. Romania's political left is a consistently good political performer, managing to consolidate both its political position and its electoral pool. At the same time, the political right is extremely fragmented…

Trends for the general elections. PSD has set the tone for the general elections, and currently this party has the first chance at winning them. The results of the vote for the county councils (which reflect the voters' political choices) show a lead of about 12% that the PSD-ALDE-UNPR political block has now over their main competitor – PNL - and which will hard to overcome by the liberals.

Moreover, the math shows that PSD, ALDE, and UNPR can form, should the same results hold in the general elections, the future parliamentarian majority. This prospect will increase the appeal for some local PNL leaders to get into political complicities with a view to the general elections in this autumn…

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