Ponta’s USL alliance set to win Romanian election

Victor Ponta, accused of spurring defections among the opposition.

Romanians are voting on Sunday (9 December) to elect a new Parliament with polls give the USL alliance of incumbent Prime Minister Victor Ponta a comfortable lead. But his political rival, President Traian B?sescu, could refuse to appoint him to lead the next cabinet.

The ruling Social Liberal Union alliance – consisting of Ponta’s Social Democratic Party (PSD, PES-affiliated) and Crin Antonescu’s National Liberal Party (PNL, ALDE-affiliated) – could get 60% of the vote, according to a survey cited by the Agerpres agency.

The poll gives B?sescu’s Right Romania Alliance (ARD) 15% of the vote. ARD includes the Democratic Liberal party (PDL) the president founded, Mihai R?zvan Ungureanu’s Civic Force Party (PFC) and the Christian-Democratic National Peasants’ Party (PN?-CD).

The biggest surprise might come from the Peoples’ Party of  TV mogul Dan Diaconescu, which the survey showed gaining nearly 15% of the vote. The populist Diaconescu promises to slash the VAT from 24% to 10% and give €20,000 to budding entrepreneurs.

For the first time in recent history, the Democratic Hungarian Union of Romania (URMR) may not enter Parliament, as it could prove unable to pass the 6% threshold.

The Romanian constitution gives the president the power to choose a prime minister and it is far from certain if B?sescu would select Ponta. Last summer, when the two were engaged in a bitter political row, B?sescu said he would not re-name Ponta as premier.

The future of B?sescu as head of state also appears uncertain after the election. Though his term ends in November 2014, it is widely expected that the USL coalition would try to repeat their summer effort to impeach him.

Antonescu, the USL co-leader, has been promised the presidency.

CVM report to come

Romania’s relations with the EU have been under strain since this summer’s political crisis.

The European Commission is readying a report on Romania under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (see background), due to be published before the end of the year. The last Commission report, published on 18 July, suggested that if the country's constitutional order is not respected, Romania could see its voting rights in the EU Council of Ministers suspended.

Under EU pressure, Romania was one of the few EU countries to prevent the EU budget for 2014-2020 from being adopted at a 22-23 November leadership summit. Romania was represented at the summit by B?sescu, with Ponta supporting the president’s position.

Chevron' shale gas at stake?

Another development following the elections could be, according to Reuters, resuming explorations for shale gas, as the current moratorium on shale exploration could be lifted when voter pressure subsides after the vote.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary could have 538 billion cubic metres (bcm) of shale gas between them, slightly more than Europe's annual gas consumption and enough to cover Romania's own for almost 40 years.

Chevron has exploration rights for 270,000 hectares near the Black Sea, and has also bought a much larger concession close to Barlad for an undisclosed amount.

Activists hope all Chevron's exploration rights will be annulled if they can secure an overwhelming majority against shale gas in a non-binding referendum in the Black Sea town of Mangalia, coinciding with the elections.

When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU on 1 January 2007, shortcomings remained regarding judicial reform and the fight against corruption. In the case of Bulgaria, problems also remained regarding the fight against organised crime.

A Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) was set up to assist both countries with judiciary matters after their EU accession.

The European Commission expressed concern about the ongoing political infighting in Romania in its most recent CVM report.

The 18 July report questions the country’s ability to comply with the EU's fundamental principles and the sustainability and irreversibility of reform.

Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that recent events in Romania had "shaken EU's trust" in the country.

Barroso had met with Prime Minister Victor Ponta the previous week and presented him with a 11-point to-do list aimed at restoring the status quo following what critics said was an attempted coup d'état and an assault on democratic values. Ponta reportedly committed to following Brussels' advice.

  • 9 Dec.: Romanians vote for Parliament

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