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Romanian electoral law cripples the small parties: interview with Demos

Claudiu Turcuș

In Spain, a party needs 15,000 signatures to take part in the European elections. In Romania, the threshold is the highest in Europe, set at 200,000 signatures. Parties have also to obtain a minimum of 5% of national votes in order to make it into the European Parliament.

Even the legal mechanism for creating a party is, in Romania, long and unnecessarily cumbersome, compared with the situation in France and Italy, which do not even have a party law, and no conditions for establishing political parties are specified in the law. The French, or the Italian, law give no definition of parties, nor the conditions for the registration of a political party.

A party in France is simply any political group submitting its financial reports to the Commission Nationale des Comptes de Campagne et des Financements Politiques.

Moreover, in Romania the Law on European Parliamentary Elections will be debated by the Constitutional Court only on 6 March, which means there will be very little time left for small parties or independents to collect the necessary signatures.

I asked Claudiu Turcuș (in the picture), spokesman for DEMOS, a recently created, small, socially-oriented group, whether he thinks the law was devised to cripple the small parties and the independent candidates.

C.T. Absolutely, this is designed to keep the parties that are already in power safe from any grassroots political organization. It’s absolutely undemocratic and absurd to demand 200,000 signatures per party and 100,000 per independent candidate, and then to place further restrictions on this, like demanding that nobody sign for more than one party/candidate.

No other country in the EU has such a restrictive minimum standard for being on the ballot, and Romania shouldn’t either. We have said as much whenever we had the opportunity to and will continue to fight for a reasonable threshold. Until then, we must work with the current legal framework, and that means a lot of hours poured in by our dedicated teams of volunteers.

How can you gather so many signatures? What are the logistics and the infrastructure? How can you meet the costs?

It’s an uphill struggle, to be sure. We don’t have access to any public money and none of us are particularly wealthy, so we rely completely on voluntary work and donations from our members and supporters. While this will make the logistics a bit harder in the short term, it’s an advantage in the long run, as we aren’t and won’t be beholden to any private interests, industry lobbies or corrupt individuals alike.

We have groups in 20 cities in Romania and abroad, and hundreds of people willingly giving us their free time and working for this campaign as well as Demos in general. If we do manage to meet the required number of signatures, it will be a victory of true grassroots organizing and a sign that these people, who have put their hopes in the creation of a left-wing party in Romania, are no longer a voice that any political group in Romania can safely ignore. And if we don’t, we’ll go right back to organizing and expanding our structures, so that we can not only get the signatures, but get elected in the next round. It’s not going to be easy, but we have faith.

Do you accept the label of a far-left party?

In fact, in any country that has a tradition of left parties, Demos would be considered a regular progressive left party. The fact that the Romanian public discourse has skewed so much to the right that common-sense measures like a minimum living wage and progressive taxation are labelled as „far-left” says more about the sad state of affairs in which Romanian politics is today than it does about us.

 What are the chances of obtaining a seat in the EU Parliament? The latest poll gave you 0% of intentions to vote.

That last poll was the first one in which we were mentioned by name, so we consider it a success, given our limited resources. We’re confident that in the next one, we’ll be at a higher percentage. Still, the fact that we are fighting to represent women and minorities, the working class, the poor, the forgotten to a level never seen before in Romanian politics is a victory in its own. Now that we are becoming more visible to the voters at large, our chances of representing them at all levels will only improve. And what better place to start than from the beginning?

As Claudiu Turcuș said, it is even harder, close to impossible, for an independent candidate to run in the European elections in Romania, because the same law wants 100,000 signatures from an independent.

Only celebrities such as the actor Mircea Diaconu, an MEP in the present European Parliament, have a chance of managing this, and even then with a lot of voluntary help. In 2014, when, confronted with legal problems, Diaconu decided to run for the European Parliament, but was declared incompatible, he quickly set up a friendly network of signature-gatherers, mostly among pensioners, the elderly from the suburbs and the countryside.

Pensioners are a redoubtable force in Romania. Diaconu gathered the necessary 100,000 signatures and in the elections he got 6,81% of the national vote, more than the party of the Hungarian minority (UDMR), or the right-oriented PMP party backed by outgoing president Basescu.

But that proved very hard to accomplish, and in order to win over the compassion of the population, the actor and future MEP Diaconu had to crisscross the country in an old yellow minivan, talking personally to people… but not everybody has so much spare time.

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