Presently, there are two legislative proposals, one submitted by PNL and the other by USR parliamentarians, that concern the modification of Law no.115/2015 on the election of local authorities and public administration. Both proposals await a report from Joint Special Committee of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate for the elaboration, modification and completion of the legislative proposals in the electoral field.
Given that the componence of the Committee favors the position of PSD and UDMR parliamentarians (11 members out of 23 + negotiations with minorities and independent parliamentarians) it was not surprising that the Orban Cabinet chose to assume its responsibility for a separate draft bill that reinstates the double ballot system for the election of mayors.
The Prime Minister presented the draft bill in Parliament on January 29th, 2020, alongside a series of amendments formulated by USR and ALDE. The following day, PSD has announced that it will file a censure motion, even though Marcel Ciolacu, interim PSD chairman and president of the Chamber of Deputies, stated that negotiations have yet to ensure the 233 votes needed to dismiss the Government. If by Monday, PSD does not gather on its side 233 MPs, then the draft bill is adopted, and the Orban Government remains in office. We consider this to be the most likely scenario, given that, under these conditions, the PNL strategy to trigger snap elections is blocked, a political move which also favors USR.
Scenario A: Censure motion passes
If the censure motion passes, we can expect that PNL will outline the calendar for snap elections. Raluca Turcan stated that the Liberals are considering all the scenarios provided by the Constitution to ensure that they will organize early elections, including the scenario of the resignation of Prime Minister Orban, if the assumptions will not lead to the dismissal of the Government (although this seems less likely in the light of the recent declarations of the PNL leaders).
Snap election can be organized in Romania, according to the Constitution, only if two Cabinet proposals are rejected by the Parliament, and a term of 60 days passes since the first proposal. PSD will have to justify why it refuses to invest in a new government, the public pressure would be much higher than in the case of Orban’s resignation. Ultimately, the president of Romania can request the dissolution of the two Chambers of Parliament.
In order to reach such a situation, a consensus is needed at the Parliament level, in order to reject two sacrificial nominations, in a bid to form a “political agreement” with USR, UDMR, ALDE, ProRomânia and PMP. Time-wise, at least 120 days are needed for early elections to be organized simultaneously with local elections, including a period granted for the submission of the electoral lists and for the election campaign. According to the most recent declarations, Raluca Turcan, vice-Prime Minister, declared that PNL wants to organize snap elections at the end of June 2020, a day or a week after local elections.
Scenario B: Censure motion does not pass
If the censure motion does not pass, the draft bill for the organization of two-round election can be submitted the Secretariat General for the right to notify to Constitutional Court. Anyway, the draft bill is sent to the president for promulgation, with immediate entry into force, as soon as it is published in the Official Gazette. In the case that the Constitutional Court does state that the bill is unconstitutional, for reasons related to the integrity of Parliamentary procedure (seeing as there are two standing legislative proposals which await a report), Ludovic Orban declared that the Government is prepared to draft an Emergency Ordinance (EO) that eschews Parliamentary control, giving the liberals enough time to plan their snap elections strategy.
It should also be mentioned that a return to a two-rounds election, programed for the middle of June 2020, disadvantages both PSD and PNL. This situation is due to the structure of the local administration in Romania. PSD has about 1800 mayors, and PNL about 1100, about 80% of the total. For a mayor in office, it is much easier to win elections in a single round (one needs only the largest number of votes among all candidates), than to participate in aa second round, where you will have to take at least 50% plus one of the votes, given that he has gone against a candidate supported by all of his opponents. More specifically, the second round of elections takes place two weeks after the first round, thus, coinciding with the liberals’ plan for the organization of snap-elections.
Main Stakeholder Positions
The main initiator of the censure motion, PSD accuses PNL and the Orban Government of having trespassed upon European standards through its decision to change the electoral laws by assuming responsibility without letting the normal Parliamentarian process of reaching its conclusion. PSD highlights the fact that PNL purportedly intends to change the rules of the game just prior to the elections in order to improve its stance in the upcoming local elections, which represents a violation of the recommendations of the Venice Commission.
Regarding the results of the censure motion, Interim PSD President Marcel Ciolacu stated that he is optimistic that it would pass, given that ”only 5 or 6 votes are still needed for the censure motion to be adopted by the Parliament”. He also mentioned that there are currently negotiations with Parliamentarians that want to ”associate themselves with the social-democrat group”.
The co-initiator of the censure motion, UDMR also disagrees with the way PNL decided to solve the problem of the double ballot elections. Kelemen Hunor, President of UDMR, mentioned that, should the vote of no confidence in the Parliament fail, they will go to the Constitutional Court, which he is convinced that it would find the assumption of responsibility in this case unconstitutional. Hunor is thus convinced that in 2020 there will not be a double-ballot system at the local elections.
Florin Roman, leader of the PNL group in the Chamber of Deputies, criticized the censure motion submitted by PSD and UDMR, claiming that it the text is problematic, as it lacks any reference to the interests of the citizens. Furthermore, he claims that PSD is making a move against the real interests of the Romanian citizens, helped by ”a debatable decision of the Constitutional Court”, which is purported to be by Roman a ”reply to the PNL project concerning the elimination of the special pensions”.
Prime Minister Ludovic Orban said that he is convinced that no PNL Member of the Parliament will vote for the censure motion and that the procedure initiated by PSD will not affect the activity that his Government began.
PNL Senator Alina Gorghiu also mentioned that for PNL it is not an option to vote for the censure motion in order to trigger snap elections. Gorghiu argued that such a strategy would represent an offence to the citizens and to the Government.
ALDE President Călin Popescu Tăriceanu mentioned that his party is endorsing the double ballot system and that no Parliamentarian from his party will vote for the censure motion. Tăriceanu considers that snap elections would be detrimental for the Romanian economy, and, therefore, the Government should avoid engaging in political games that could bring about a political crisis.
Eugen Tomac, leader of PMP, mentioned that his party will ”categorically” oppose the censure motion, given the fact that choosing mayors in a double ballot system was one of PMP’s requests when they voted for the Orban Government.
Dan Barna, leader of USR, heavily criticized the text of the motion and gave his assurances that no one from his party would vote for the vote of no confidence.