Daniel Stroe – Bucharest
The Romanian Parliament lower house – the Chamber of Deputies – yesterday rejected a government emergency ordinance which would have allowed elected local officials to switch party, a move highly criticized by the civil society, dealing a blow to the main ruling social-democrat party’s attempt to reshape the structure of town halls and local councils to its own benefit.
The social-democrats relied on the feeble majority they have in the Parliament, but, to their surprise, the ordinance was rejected after UDMR, the Magyar minority main representing party and a member of the ruling coalition, abstained from voting while other lawmakers of the main ruling party missed the session yesterday. With eight votes short, the ordinance was dismissed by deputies, but the final say belong to the Senate, the upper house. In the mean time, the measure remains in force, allowing mayors and councilors to change their party, a move so far outlawed.
The civil society accuses PM Ponta he only seeks to regain majority in the county councils after his former allies, the liberals, quit the ruling coalition and left social-democrats in minority in many such institutions, unable to push their agenda through. The move comes two months before the presidential elections early November in which Ponta is seen as favorite and this is why many say the emergency ordinance is closely related to the PM’s presidential hopes. Analysts explained that mayors are crucial in running campaign in the territory and usually, in the countryside, voters are easily electorally “guided” by the elected officials.
The US, British the European Commission’s representation in Romania have criticized an emergency ordinance passed late August by the Romanian Government, voicing concern about the timing and lack of transparency. In return, Ponta says his ordinance aims to unblock the activity in local public institutions where, because lack of a clear majority, projects stall to the detriment of the population.
In reality, according to a study done by the Institute of Public Policies, about 83 per cent of the local councils in Romania are currently blocked due to a change in the majority and projects sit on the table with no chance of being approved. But the institute called on local official to negotiate majorities, instead of relying on controversial measure which basically force the formation of these majorities, a move entirely undemocratic.
Ponta accused the opposition – liberals and democrat-liberals – of double standards after they voted against the emergency ordinance, but in reality drawing mayors from other parties in the province. But with the social-democrats attracting the bulk of new mayors and councilors from the opposition, the liberals and democrat-liberals were probably forced to do the same in order to keep the ranks stable in the territory.