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Cablegate: Romania's New Uninominal Election Law Changes The

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

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/NCE

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

BUCHAREST 00000313 002 OF 002


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

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