High castling

CRISTIAN PÎRVULESCU (Translated by Cosmin Ghidoveanu)
English Section / 28 septembrie 2020

High castling

The pandemic did not cause the vote attendance to drop. On the contrary, it has remained comparable to what has happened in the local elections of 2008 and 2016. Voter turnout is a good indicator of the politicization of the electoral campaign, which explains why in 2004 or 2012 voter turnover was spectacular, where local elections are concerned. In the local elections of June 2004 the high voter turnout (54.23%) was forecasting the election as president of Traian Băsescu, and in June 2012 the high number of voters (56.39%) represented a true punishment vote against the same, announcing the referendum for his dismissal of July. On the other hand, in electoral years without a high degree of politicization, such as 2008 (49.38%, in the first round) or 2016 (48.44%), voter turnout was low. And so will it be on September 27th, 2020, when in the end we will see about the same turnover like in the elections of 2008 and 2016. No dramatic drop because of the pandemic, like in France, nor a dramatic increase. Only in Bucharest, where the political stakes are high, the turnout is a bit higher, but not by much: only enough to raise the stakes.

On the other hand, the local elections of 2020 confirm a trend: Romania's bipartisan polarization. Already, this trend was visible since the local elections of June 2016, when the two pivot parties, PNL and PSD, got 68.25% of the total votes (37.58% - PSD, 30,64% - PNL). But the state of the representation in county councils was even clearer: three quarters of the number of county councilmen (74.24%) belonged to the two parties (40.32% - PSD and 33.92% - PNL). The influence of the one-round majority voting system in the mayoral elections should not be overlooked: in 2016 that system gave a 20% advantage to the PSD, which went from 33.64% to 52.63% of mayor positions held. On the other hand, the PNL, which had won 29.60% of the votes cast for mayors, was left with the same percentage, little above 32% of the elected mayors. But together, the two parties got 85% of the total number of elected mayors. The same situation is being seen this time, except the two parties are switching places. The PNL will be the political winner of the election. It isn't just the Iohannis effect, which gave the PNL through his victory of November 2019 in the presidential elections an edge which the PNL capitalized, but also the result of a strategy of bipolarization of politics. But all of these calculations will be made relative by the final outcome of the Bucharest vote.

In 2020, PSD and PNL will be the main beneficiaries of the electoral system in the election of the mayors and county council chairmen, whereas the party with the third largest number of votes - this time USR - will have difficulty gaining roots. Votes for mayors are relevant for the ability to mobilize voters, being a good predictor for the parliamentary elections. A party with any kind of councilmen but with no mayors cannot gain permanence and runs the risk of disappearing once the state of mind that propelled him changes.

An ethnic party, the UDMR, is still holding on in 2020 as the third party in terms of the number of mayoralties, which makes it look with relative calm towards the coming parliamentary elections.

As usual, the split between the urban and rural areas has played an important part this time as well. The fact that at 17:30 on Sunday, voter turnout was better in the rural areas (3,673,711) than in the urban areas (3,027,712) is a relative indicator of the parties' ability to rally voters. Far from being electorally neutral, voter turnout is both an indicator of the politicization of the vote, as well as of the parties' ability to mobilize their voters. A low voter turnout in Bucharest in 2016 (33.3%) has favored the clear victory of Gabriela Firea with 42.9% of the votes. Or, in 2020, amid a relatively low voter turnout everything revolves on the parties' ability to rally voters.

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