By Ioan Bucuraș
When was the last time that you stood in line for something or someone, or simply to get something done, for over 6 hours? Do you remember? During Sunday’s European elections, Romanians that voted abroad had to endure endless queues just to cast their vote. The most basic expression of a constitutional and democratic right: voting. And Romanians remembered.
They did not only recall the freezing rain and cold in November 2014 when they once again were humiliated by the authorities, queuing up all over Europe to elect their president. Long, backbreaking, sometimes rainy and windy queues are deeply embedded in the Romanian collective consciousness. During the Communist regime, when voting rights and political pluralism were virtually a fairy tale, Romanians had to stay in line for bread, dairy products, flour, sugar, oil, with meat being a rarity. These gruelling horrors of eternal waiting lines haunted them once again, only this time around, it was for the ballot paper and not for a dusty loaf of bread. Their distaste for the former regime lead to its leader being executed on Christmas Day 1989.
Last Sunday, the queue-to-voters were in texting frenzy, video-calling friends living in other European cities, sending pictures, filming the events and comparing waiting times. Once again this nourished the needed anger to get people out to vote back home – which altogether lead to an unprecedented voter turnout in Romania for the European elections. Which grandmother enjoys seeing her grandchildren having to go through all of this, just to cast a bloody vote, after having left the country mainly due to the disastrous performances by the political parties in power since the fall of the iron curtain?
But there was more at stake: the judicial referendum, prohibiting amnesties and pardons for corruption offences, took place on the same day. Furious about the systemic efforts to alleviate anti-corruption laws, the halted reforms (or the lack thereof) and the sleezy tactics employed to save party leader Liviu Dragnea from going to jail infuriated the crowds to bits. The Romanian diaspora dislodged the two governing parties and threw them into the abyss of political insignificance (3.56% of the vote combined) and a bit over 80% of the votes cast were in favour of the referendum.
One of the biggest surprises was delivered by the soon to be kicked out of its namesake European family – ALDE Romania. Polls suggested everything between 8 and 12%, however, their continuous approval of all of PSD’s wrongdoings was severely punished by voters. They did not pass the electoral threshold and will spare us the dumpster fire in the European Parliament for the next 5 years.
Other establishment politicians, such as former Romanian president Traian Basescu and former Romanian PM Victor Ponta, as well as the Hungarian minority party DAHR, secured mandates in Brussels, narrowly passing the electoral threshold.
As expected, the EPP’s National Liberal Party (PNL) won the elections. Nevertheless, the newly formed pro-European liberal Alliance, USR-Plus+, exceeded all expectations and won the diaspora vote by miles, but also became a reference point and a clear winner in several Romanian cities, including in some of the traditional strongholds of both PNL and PSD. The Alliance will very likely change the status quo in Romanian politics and should be seen as a societal paradigm shift. Their result is even more so surprising, given the fact that they currently don’t hold any town and city halls, meaning that unlike the other two major parties, they do not have the party political apparatus to mobilise the electorate through mayors, which was always a turning point in Romanian elections over the last 30 years.
To many Romanians, this was the symbolic beginning of a functional democracy and a clear message that the country belongs in the heart of Europe. Stronger than ever youth participation: the electoral segment that was apathetic was finally attracted by a reformed, genuine, party – and it was the segment that made the difference.
Liviu Dragnea, one of the most corrupt politicians that post-Communist Romania had the chance to witness so far, received a 3 and half year jail sentence yesterday. He held the Romanian judicial system in a chokehold, promoted anti-European sentiments and was actively constructing conspiracy theories, saying that he is the victim of foreign and national intelligence service, Soros, the EU and all the rest.
His party political apparatus, which he controlled en detail, plunged Romania into one of its worst societal and political moments since 1989. His political career came to an end yesterday.
Romania can finally breathe again. And the air is European.