Romania's former ruling party, which steered the country through recession, scored low at the local polls.
By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 13/06/12
PNL President Crin Antonescu (left), and Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta (right), congratulate Mayor Sorin Oprescu in Bucharest on Sunday (June 10th). [Victor Barbu/SETimes]
Analysts said a general wave of dissatisfaction among voters due to austerity measures is to blame for the Liberal-Democrat Party's (PDL) crushing defeat in local elections on Sunday (June 10th).
The big winner is the Social-Liberal Union (USL), the new tripartite ruling coalition headed by social-democrat Prime Minister Victor Ponta.
In total, USL gained 42% of the town halls and 50% of the county councils across Romania, while PDL garnered 16% of the mayor seats and 15% of county councils. PDL lost the two district mayoralties it previously held in Bucharest and lost in major Romanian cities, such as Craiova and Ploiesti.
For the first time in post-communist Romania, a woman -- social-democrat Olguta Vasilescu -- became mayor of Craiova. In Bucharest, Sorin Oprescu, an independent candidate who had the support of USL, secured a second term.
"PDL has paid the price of austerity, but also of its incapacity to communicate," Raluca Alexandrescu, a political science professor with the University of Bucharest, told SETimes.
"It was a negative vote, which sanctioned first the austerity measures and then the manner in which the liberal-democrats chose to carry out their electoral campaign. PDL was basically absent from the political landscape during the campaign and it looks like its ruling experience wasn't at any good to them," she said.
PDL ruled between 2009 and 2012 amid economic hardships that forced its government to pass unpopular austerity measures, such as a 25% salary cut for state employees and a 5% VAT increase. Demonstrators rallied in January in Bucharest, in the largest anti-governmental protests in post-communist Romania.
The winners have their own explanation.
"Romanians voted on Sunday in favour of an alternative to a disastrous governing," Georgian Pop, a social-democrat lawmaker, told SETimes. "Never over the 22 years has a coalition obtained such good results."
Pop added "We are aware that our victory entails a lot of responsibility and people have very high expectations from us, especially after the austerity. We are very optimistic we will pull it through. And I think we have proved after a single month of governing we have the right policies that do not endanger the economic stability."
The results bode well for USL, just five months before parliamentary elections.
"I do not think there will be an erosion of USL's popularity by November amid the populations' high expectations. On the contrary, these very good results will mobilise the union," Alexandrescu said.
Voters agreed that the economy played a great role in their electoral choice. "I felt something had been taken away from me. And I also felt this could not remain unpunished. And this is exactly what I did at the polls," Aurel Pavalascu, a 53-year-old school teacher in Bucharest, told SETimes.
"You may call my vote a negative one, but this is what we've done over the last 22 years in this country, always voting for a change due to disappointment," he said.