Cablegate: Uninominal Reform in Parliament: Dead On Arrival?

DE RUEHBM #0761/01 1830617
R 020617Z JUL 07





E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/28/2017

Classified By: Pol Couns Ted Tanoue for Reasons 1.4 (B) and (D).

1. (C) Summary. Despite widespread popular support and a unified draft law ostensibly supported by all the three major Romanian political parties-PSD, PNL, PD-Embassy interlocutors from all political stripes have been telling us that uninominal electoral reform is doomed to failure and that the current hype regarding the uninominal vote is justfor show. Our contacts predict that the draft law will fail to pass when it is brought to a vote at the electoral code committee in the Chamber of Deputies, and will be brought down by tactical absences of key PSD legislators that will ensure that the vote will fail to win committee approval by just one or two votes. Our interlocutors also predict that President Basescu will call a referendum on electoral reform-to take place simultaneously with the Fall 2008 European Parliament elections, putting further pressure on an embattled Parliament. End Summary.

2. (C) In a meeting with Polcouns June 22, PSD member Victor Ponta-a vocal proponent of uninominal electoral reform-suggested that despite his party's public support for the electoral reform, and that the five PSD members sitting on the electoral code committee will likely vote against the draft law, causing the bill to fall short of the 10 required votes. Ponta said that PSD seniors, led by PSD Chamber of Deputies head Viorel Hrebenciuc, were working behind the scenes to undermine electoral reform, as abandonment of the current "party list" system would erode their political standing with the PSD.

3. (C) In a subsequent meeting with Poloff June 26, UDMR Senator Peter Eckstein-Kovacs confirmed that the UDMR was publicly opposed to electoral reform, noting that his party would suffer under a uninominal system and risked losing a number of seats that the UDMR currently enjoyed under the party-list system. Eckstein-Kovacs added that while all of the major political parties were professing support for electoral reform in order to pander to the voters, none with the exception of the PD would actually favor a uninominal system when it came to a vote. Another UDMR contact, Andras Levente Mate, said that his party would likely be offering a series of amendments to the draft law in order to drag out the debate on electoral reform law until December, ensuring that no electoral reforms would be adopted in time to take effect before the Fall 2008 parliamentary elections.

4. (C) Education Minister Cristian Adomnitei (PNL) echoed this pessimistic view about prospects for electoral reform. At a meeting with Polcouns June 27, he insisted that the PNL's support for a uninominal system was genuine, given that the PNL's core constituency was the well-educated, urban electorate which generally favored creating a uninominal electoral system. He predicted, however, that PSD deputies would ultimately balk at voting for the uninominal support. He added that while President Basescu was a late convert to the uninominal cause, he would use Parliament's failure to adopt a uninominal system as a major part of his electoral strategy in coming months.

5. (C) The President of the Pro-Democracy Association (APD) NGO, Cristian Pirvulescu, told Poloff June 26 that support for electoral reform was waning quickly, adding that the only true believers now appeared to be PSD deputy Ponta and PNL Vice President Mihai Voicu. Pirvulescu opined that, in addition to the declared opponents of the draft electoral reform law (UDMR, PRM) even its professed supporters (PSD, PNL, PD) did not truly support the law. He added that mainstream parties were just "putting on a show" in order to draw public support. He noted that even President Basescu remained at heart a supporter of a French-style majoritarian system that would increase his own institutional powers and give his party a stronger presence in parliament. He echoed others' comments that PSD Chamber of Deputies whip Hrebenciuc was working behind the scenes to torpedo the project. Pirvulescu predicted that Hrebenciuc would manipulate the votes in committee to assure failure; on the day of the vote, two PSD deputies would-mysteriously-call in sick, assuring that the draft law would fail to win committee approval, just one or two votes shy of the total votes needed.

6. (C) Comment: President Basescu's public advocacy of uninominal electoral reforms means that he now confronts a win-win solution-whatever the outcome of the current debate.

Embassy interlocutors were nearly unanimous in predicting that failure of parliament to pass an electoral reform package would trigger a move by the President to schedule a referendum on adopting a uninominal system, set to coincide with the Europarliamentary elections this fall. One of the Prime Minister's advisors confirmed to us that the PM and his political allies were holding back on setting a firm date for the EP elections precisely because they wanted to complicate Basescu's ability to couple the referendum to the Europarliamentary contest. We note, too, that scheduling a referendum on an issue as popular as the uninominal system would likely assure a higher voter turnout for the EP elections. While such a referendum will have no legal force, it will add further popular pressure for Parliament to take action, and a high vote turnout would buttress arguments from the Basescu camp that the EP contest has provided yet another mandate to the President. End Comment.


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