150640 4/21/2008 15:39 08BUCHAREST313 Embassy Bucharest UNCLASSIFIED VZCZCXRO3633 RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBW RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG DE RUEHBM #0313/01 1121539 ZNR UUUUU ZZH R 211539Z APR 08 FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8190 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 000313
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E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PREL, PGOV, RO SUBJECT: ROMANIA'S NEW UNINOMINAL ELECTION LAW CHANGES THE POLITICAL RULES
1. (SBU) Summary: Romania formally adopted new electoral rules intended to increase accountability to local electoral districts and to encourage political parties to choose candidates on the basis of attractiveness to voters rather than loyalty to party kingmakers. The new rules create a first-past-the-post system for candidates receiving a simple majority of votes in their respective districts, and include preferential provisions making it easier for ethnic minority parties to have at least one parliamentary seat even if they fail to meet the thresholds applied to other political parties. However, some critics warn that the new rules may lead to the breakdown of party discipline and create an even more heterogeneous and faction-ridden political scene. President Basescu has accentuated the positive, remarking that the new rules were "half a step" in the right direction. End Summary.
2. (SBU) A uninominal electoral reform law was formally gazetted by the government (and thus entered into force) April 13. The law was approved by parliament last March by an overwhelming margin of 231 "yes" votes (PNL, PD-L, PSD, and PC) to 11 "no" votes (PRM) and 18 abstentions (UDMR). However, the PC and right-extremist PRM subsequently challenged the law with the Constitutional Court, which rejected the challenge. The new electoral rules retain a 5 percent threshold for parties seeking to be represented in parliament, and create an alternate threshold allowing for parliamentary representation of parties winning at least 6 seats in the House of Deputies and 3 in the Senate. Independent candidates will need to win the support of at least 4 percent of the total number of eligible voters in their district in order to win a parliamentary seat. Ethnic minority parties that fail to pass the two thresholds for parliamentary representation are still entitled to one seat in the Chamber of Deputies provided they receive a minimum of 10 percent of the national average number of votes necessary to elect a representative to the Chamber. County council chairmen will be elected in a first-past-the-post single ballot, replacing a previous system where they were chosen through back-room negotiations among council members. 3. (SBU) The new system will include 42 total constituencies nationwide, including the existing 41 counties and the Bucharest metropolitan area. However, a separate electoral district will be created for expatriate Romanians voting overseas. These constituencies will be divided into "uninominal districts" (seats), with the ratio of some 70,000 inhabitants for one representative of the Chamber of Deputies and 160,000 inhabitants for every Senator. Based on this ratio, there will be some 330 seats in the lower chamber and 135 in the upper chamber for the next election, with an additional 4 deputies and 2 senators representing overseas constituencies. A parliamentary committee has been formed to draw up new electoral districts, and their decisions must be ratified through a Cabinet resolution within 90 days from when the electoral law took effect (e.g., by July 13, 2008). 4. (SBU) However, at the insistence of political parties, the new system retains some proportional elements in an effort to balance voter preferences with some provisions which give play to the parties, relative electoral weights. Candidates who receive a simple majority (e.g., 50 percent plus one vote) in a uninominal district will enter Parliament outright, provided their party passes either the 5 percent or 6/3 electoral thresholds. However, if no candidate manages to get a simple majority of votes in a given constituency, all of the votes obtained by the various candidates will be pooled by party affiliation at both the constituency and national levels. A "party list" will be drawn up for each party in a given constituency, comprised of all of the candidates listed in decreasing number of total votes received. Seats will go to the highest placed candidates from parties entitled to receive seats, based on an "electoral coefficient." If all of the seats in a given constituency are not assigned during this stage, remaining seats will be assigned to parties based on their respective shares of the vote obtained nationally, again on the basis of "party lists" reflecting candidates' vote shares in their respective districts. 5. (SBU) Comment: Passage of the electoral reform bill marks the end of a effort begun in the mid 1990s to abandon Romania's party-list electoral system which gave disproportionate power to party bigwigs and which minimized the political accountability of elected officials. Proponents argue that the new rules will force parties to choose candidates on the basis of local electability rather than loyalty to kingmakers. In addition, they claim the new rules will foster grassroots democratization by providing an opening for smaller, regionally-based parties with stronger ties to local electorates. Critics on the other hand warn that the new electoral code will weaken the center and foster the breakdown of party discipline, creating an even more
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faction-ridden political scene. They also predict the emergence of new political elites skewed more towards local oligarchs, celebrities, sports figures, and others with greater appeal or resources at the local level. Despite the "uninominal" moniker, the new system retains a number of elements from the old party-list system, including provisions that could mean that a candidate failing to meet the 50 plus 1 percent threshold might lose to rivals receiving fewer votes overall, but belonging to parties with a larger national vote share. However, President Basescu in signing the bill into law chose to accentuate the positive, remarking that the election reform was "half a step" in the right direction. End Comment. TAUBMAN