It looks as if Romania’s National Liberal Party (PNL) has suffered an unexpected defeat following the country’s recent parliamentary election. The opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD) was just short of 30 percent of votes in the nation’s general election on Sunday, according to preliminary results published on Monday after over 90 percent of votes had been counted.
Surprise Result Overturns Expectations
This was not the result that the PNL expected. In September, activist Nicusor Dan defeated the Social Democratic incumbent mayor of Bucharest, Gabriela Firea, which gave the PNL the boost that they needed for last Sunday’s poll. At the time, the Liberal Party said it won the most mandates in its history and it gained control of approximately half of Romania’s local-county heads, as well as of the mayors of the biggest cities, including Cluj-Napoca and Iasi.
In normal circumstances, this would provide any governing party with confidence ahead of a national election, but like with many elections in recent years, the opinion polls got their predictions horribly wrong.
The Opinion Polls Got it Wrong Again
According to most pre-election polls, the weekend vote was likely to favor reform-orientated politicians united in their determination to keep Romania in step with the EU mainstream, and away from the camp of other eurosceptic countries such as Poland and Hungary. However, they also suggested that the PNL would fall short of a majority, which forced Prime Minister Ludovic Orban to resign on Monday.
One of the biggest factors that prevented Orban from gaining a majority was the coronavirus. COVID-19 has triggered Romania’s worst economic slump on record, though the country was suffering from severe economic problems prior to the pandemic. Approximately 25 percent of Romania’s 19 million people live on less than $5.50 a day. The coronavirus has only exacerbated the country’s structural problems, including the near-collapse of the public healthcare system.
As a result of Romania’s containment measures, the country’s fiscal deficit is expected to widen this year to around 9 percent of GDP, compared with 4.3 percent in 2019.
The Coronavirus Determined the Outcome of Romania’s Election
The coronavirus also affected voter turnout, which stood at around 33 percent in the country, whereas the number was 39 percent during the 2016 election.
If the PNL are serious about staying in power, they must ally themselves with the reformists of the USR-Plus Alliance, which were attributed nearly 15 percent in the partial vote count. The USR-Plus are a mix of pro-EU technocrats and anti-corruption activists that coalesced last year into a progressive political alliance. Though Romania has been affected by a period of political instability for some time, a PNL-USR-Plus coalition is the least worst option.
In one instance when the PSD were last in power, they passed legislation increasing pensions that threatened to jeopardize Romania’s investment-grade credit rating. They also spent freely and corruption was rampant. When Orban came to power, he was left with the EU’s widest budget shortfall. The Social Democrats’ policies are not the answer to Romania’s economic problems that have been exacerbated by COVID-19.
The PSD Must be Kept Out of Power
The PNL plan to gradually reduce the deficit to about 3 percent by 2024, and use the €80 billion his country is set to receive in EU financing to invest in new highways, fuel innovation and upgrade crumbling hospitals. They also hope to roll out 5G wireless networks. As Deloitte suggested, individual spending will be required to drive an economic recovery due to Romania’s consumption driven economic model that is based on domestic companies that lead the domestic demand and the domestic supply. Whoever succeeds in forming a governing coalition should make economic recovery a priority, and the PNL’s plans seem like the only viable option.
For the sake of restoring economic stability, it is in Romania’s best interests that the PSD are kept out of power. Luckily, the PNL have refused to form a coalition with the Social Democrats.
Either way, Romania deserves a period of stability and prosperity following years of uncertainty and economic suffering.