Historic Victory of the Liberal Parties in Romania

Local Elections Bring a Spirit of Optimism
Nicusor Dan
Nicusor Dan

At the local elections taking place on Sunday in Bucharest, the capital of Romania, the independent mayoral candidate Nicușor Dan has impressively asserted himself with 42.7% in the race against the officiating mayor Gabriela Firea (38%). Dan put an end to 12 years of social democratic government. He had to prove himself against an expensive dirty media campaign led by the Social Democrats (PSD). Dan was actually supported by the conservative liberals (PNL) and the progressive-civic liberals of the USRPLUS party. This young party, which had surprising success is seen as the moral winner of these local elections.

After the completion of the vote count, President Klaus Johannis mentioned in his statement the fact that this is a historic victory for the democratic parties. In this area, the PNL and USRPLUS are the forces of political change for the better. "It has been the best result of the PNL in the last 30 years," said the President also underlining "the good result of USRPLUS, which has convinced with good projects and ideas". It is also a victory for Romanian democracy and its citizens, especially the young electorate, who participated massively in the elections and “voted against lies, disinformation, stagnation and incompetence.” Johannis urged voters to "end the PSD era once and for all" after this stage victory in the parliamentary elections on 6 December. The President also set the course for the future government alliance: "I encourage the democratic parties to continue the dialogue so that Romanians can gain confidence in the perspective of a solid, responsible government team with solutions for Romania's development."

Nationwide results

The voter turnout was 46%, a value that corresponded almost to that from 2016 - and this in Corona times. Despite the Bucharest election failure, the Social Democrats were able to hold onto the top with around 30 percent of the vote nationwide, despite achieving their worst result in history. This means that the PSD continues to provide over 1,400 mayors, 14 district mayors and 20 of the 41 district council chairmen. The Hungarian party (UDMR) scored in areas populated by the Hungarian minority with four district chairmen and mayors.

The PNL increased its result to 17 district chairmen and around 1,300 mayors, from which 15 were from large cities. After decades of dominance by the socialist PSD, some cities and counties were conquered by young, fresh PNL candidates. Despite the “historic” victory, the jubilation of the National Liberals was rather restrained. Nicuşor Dan visited "his friend" Ludovic Orban from the PNL after the first results were announced, but the results in Bucharest and elsewhere with a view to the parliamentary elections in December do not give any reason for joy for the party leader and prime minister. Because the victory in the capital would not have come about without the support of the newly founded association PLUS and the Union for the Rescue of Romania (USR), of which Nicușor Dan is the founding father. His long-standing exit from the party and his independent status had enabled him to gain support from the liberals and thus to win.

In the Bucharest City Council, PSD won with 32.39%, followed by USRPLUS with 26.87%. The PNL received only 19.37% of the vote. There were similar results in the elections for the six districts, where a USRPLUS-PNL alliance could form majorities in the city council. USRPLUS provided two of the mayors, PNL one, two PSD mayors secured their office and a former mayor, who was sentenced to eight years in prison in the first instance, was able to surprisingly conquer the fifth district against the PNL candidate. There are, however, accusations of electoral fraud in the room, which are multiplying all over Bucharest.

The newcomer establishes itself as the third strongest party

USRPLUS is clearly not only media winner and the surprise of the elections but also the partner party of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, especially since there were only a few joint candidates with the PNL in the country, as in Bucharest. Analysts agree that with the nationwide result of over 13% and the entry of over 3,000 elected representatives into the local parliaments, the PSD and PNL must face serious competition.

In addition to the tension over the function of Major Mayor, the French citizen and MEP Clotilde Armand (40.95%) won in a challenging competition by only 1.000 votes in the first district of the capital. Massive election fraud of the incumbent PSD mayor (39.82%) is said to have been involved. However, both parties are still objecting to the election results. Election polls gave 12% lead in the results to Armand, who incidentally, following a similar pattern, had narrowly lost the election in 2016. The police and the public prosecutor were also involved.

The biggest surprise came from the second district, where the unknown IT company owner Radu Mihaiu (44 years old) was able to prevail against a mayor who was considered corrupt, as was the USR MP Lucian Viziteu (36) in Bacau. Former TV journalist Elena Lasconi (48) broke 30 years of PSD dominance in the small town of Câmpu Lung Muscel. In Transylvania Brasov Senator Allen Coliban (41) surprisingly replaced the PNL mayor after four mandates. Even in Alba Iulia, the symbolic city of Romanian unification, the newcomers defeated the conservatives.

There was also great jubilation on the streets in Timișoara, where thousands celebrated the election victory of 53.21% of Dominic Samuel Fritz (37) from the Black Forest. After eight years he also replaces a conservative. The media spoke of a “new revolution in Timisoara”, alluding to the protests against dictator Ceausescu, which spread from here to the whole country 30 years ago. This victory by a non-Romanian citizen is considered the most pro-European election in Romania and symbolizes change. Fritz spoke of the "end of the post-communist transformation process". Incidentally, one of the first to congratulate him was his Görlitz counterpart, the Romanian Octavian Ursu, who had asserted himself in a runoff election against an AfD candidate the year before.

USRPLUS co-chairman Dan Barna also promised change. He sees the entry of his party friends in the local parliaments as the beginning of the "revolution of good governance" and announced real transparency in local government. In addition, he wants to advance the digitization and de-bureaucratisation process and set up the mayor's offices in such a way that they can benefit from European funding. “Our priority is to build a Romania without theft: without special pensions, without criminals in public positions, without illegal deforestation. We have started changing town halls and local councils. The government will follow on December 6th,” expressed in an optimistic and combative letter of thanks to the core voters.