>Romania’s election law: Everything you always wanted to know…
.… but couldn’t really be bothered to ask.
But if you, like me, have been kept awake at night wondering how Romania’s new variant of the first-past-the-post electoral system will work, help is at hand. SSEES PhD student Dan Brett has heroically trawled the Romanian press to come up with the following explanation of the new system. I have inserted a few comments of my own in square brackets
- The elections take place in one round only.
- The national territory is divided into 42 electoral districts, corresponding to the 41 counties plus Bucharest.
- Each electoral district contains a number of single member districts (SMDs) corresponding to the number of deputy/ senator seats for that district. [The new system will be used for elections to both houses of parliament]. Up to 95% of the number of mandates will be the same as in the 2004 elections, thus there will be 330 uninominal colleges [which I think is Romania political-speak for single member district] for the House of Deputies and 135 for the Senate, the rate of representation being of one deputy to 70,000 citizens and a senator for 160,000 [a provision carried over from the previous electoral system, presumably because article 62.3 of the Constitution specifies that “The number of Deputies and Senators shall be established by the electoral law, in proportion to the population of Romania.”
- The electoral threshold for the parties is 5% (nationwide); there is also an alternative threshold which entitles those parties to enter Parliament that did not reach the electoral threshold but have winning candidates in 6 single member districts for the House of Deputies and in 3 for the Senate.
- In each SMD a political party has the right to sign up one candidate only; the elector votes by applying the stamp on one candidate for the House of Deputies and on one candidate for the Senate.
- The candidates who obtain in an SMD 50% plus one vote become MPs.
- If the party they belong to has not reached the electoral threshold, they do not become MPs.
- All the votes obtained by the candidates are added to the county and national electoral subtotal [Rom. zestrea = the dowry] of the party they belong to.
The remaining seats will be distributed according to the following procedure follows:
(i) in the first stage it is calculated how many seats go to each party in each electoral district [presumably proportionally?]; from this you subtract (if there are any) those seats obtained directly by the parties in that particular county through winning a SMD by a qualified majority. [This is a fairly classic mechanism used in so-called Mixed Proportional electoral systems – where the PR element functions as a compensatory mechanism for parties which do badly in SMD contests. Elections to the Scottish Parliament use this mechanism, for example]
(ii) then at the level of each district they draw up a ‘party list’ which will contain all the candidates of the respective party in the descending order of the votes obtained. [This procedure of creating a ‘party list’ by ranking individual candidates from the same party is used in Finland, I believe]
(iii) At the district level, seats are distributed to the better positioned candidates of those parties entitled to seats, but only function of the electoral quota they obtained.
(iv) It is possible that after this stage not all seats will have been distributed. Those undistributed are redistributed, function of the percentage obtained at the national level by the parties, to the best rated candidates in their parties in the respective counties. It is not possible for a MP to ‘travel’ to another district. [This additional national tier .distributing unawarded seats loosely resembles what happens in Hungary, except that in Hungary unawarded seats from regional PR lists are awarded like this, as the Hungarians have a second run-off round to sort out who is elected in SMDs]
- For the first time, Romanians residing abroad elect – from among themselves – four deputies and two senators. [A Croatian style ‘virtual constituency’ – I am not quite sure how this will square with the population requirement given the generally low turnout of ex pat voters]
- The Presidents of the District Councils [regional authorities] are elected by a vote in one round, the winner being the one who obtains the simple majority. [This rather controversial provision seems to have been tacked on Social Democrat deputies, but doesn’t concern national elections, as far I can work out]
The 64, 000 dollar (lei?) question is, of course, what happens to the large number of SMDs likely to be unfilled because no candidate has 50%+ of the poll and those SMDs where a candidate does win with 50%+, but his or her party is debarred from representation because it doesn’t meet the national threshold. Presumably, they will be redistributed using (using a proportional mechanism?). If so, the whole system is in fact likely to be in effect a ‘mixed’ election system with Finnish style open PR ‘lists’ with the interesting variant that the precise balance between deputies elected by SMD and those elected by PR will not be clear beforehand.
The intention behind the new system apparently is to exclude ‘independent’ local political bosses dominating the system by having a party threshold and requiring a high (absolute) majority for SMDs. Personally, however I am still a little sceptical as it does not seem too hard for half a dozen dominant local independents to band together in a ‘party’. Indeed, the 50%+ requirement for elections in SMDs seems almost an incentive for heavy duty patronage and/or vote rigging on Russian lines. My colleague Prof Denis Deletant, who knows Romania and Romanian politics better than anyone at SSEES, also points that Romanian politicians have a habit of passing framework legislation and then filling in important details at the last minute, things may turn out differently anyway and we have all been losing sleep unnecessarily. So good night and good luck.
>great to hear this is gaining interest outside Romania as well 🙂
>First of all- Thank You for the help!I am a law student in Bulgaria and i am now making legislative researches on the Election laws in Romania and Italy, because there is a project for changing the election system also here, in Bulgaria..I was trying to find the new Election Law MPs in Romania, but i just failed in this. Thank You again for the inf, now i can at least mention something new in my researches.
>I suspect that the reason why the election of the heads of local government is controversial is for the following reasons:i) The current election law makes no stipulation as to how the SMD boundaries within the 42 districts will be drawn up.ii) My assumption is that this will be done at the county level. So hence whoever is in charge at the county level will have huge power in shaping the SMD’siii) PSD believes that it can use the power of local bosses to manipulate the electoral system in its favour.-The problem I see with this is that no one actually knows which end of the system will be stronger. If you are trying to gerrymander districts do you want to concentrate their vote in a few SMD’s or do you want to dilute the vote so that no one get elected in FPTP and the whole election reverts to the PR section?I also tend to think that there is an assumption that anything that PSD is in favour of is automatically bad for democracy and fighting corruption.
>Thanks for these interesting comments – the incentives offered by mixed systems are fascinating in their complexity, even where (as in Hungary) the parameters of the system are clearly established. It would be very interesting to read something in English on the debate on electoral reform in Bulgaria. Detailed up-to-date information on these important issues in CEE can be incredibly hard to come by. Thanks for the information here piece is really due to SSEES’s Dan Brett.
>Grateful to Dan for his hard work on this and to Sean in blogging it so I discovered it!I suspect the main reason behind the change is less to do with regional party bosses than with the PD having established itself at around 40% in the polls and thus calculating it can win a majority under the new system which it couldnt under the current one.The PDs competitors on the right will suffer most. The Liberals’ vote is lower and more evenly spread which will mean few SMDs won and the nationalist right (PRM, PNG etc) may not have enough support to win seats even where their vote is concentrated.If the PD is thinking long term they will figure that means consolidation on the right around themselves, if, as seems more likely, they are thinking short term it just looks like they will do better out of the new system for every vote won.PSD will benefit from having concentrations of support in certain areas and strong local organisations. UDMR will calculate that it will win more than 6 seats BUT that removes the incentive for the Hungarian community vote to stick with a single entity since the 5% threshold will be less important. Watch out for Basescu continuing his fancy for ‘divide and rule’ among oponents by promoting an alternative to the UDMR from within the Hungarian community.
>Thanks Ed The history of electoral system choice in CEE – and re-engineering electoral systems – seems to be one of miscalculation and unintended consequences, so it will be very interesting to see how things turn out – especially over the medium term. The striking thing about this system – as far I understand it – is its very complex and unpredictable incentives. Much seems to depend on just how ‘established’ the big parties are and, in turn, how feasible it is for politicians to establish viable breakaway parties. One could imagine that the upshot may be bigger looser, more unstable parties, at least on the right … I’d be interested to know if the Romanian centre-right is in a consciously or unconsciously emulating the model of the PSD, which – viewed comparatively – really been one post-communist CEE’s most successful and dominant parties.