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The winner takes it all?

With elections knocking on Romania’s door, the current government coalition has finalized the latest changes made to the electoral system so that MPs will now be elected on a single vote

June 2012 - From the Print Edition

The Chamber of Deputies recently approved the single vote bill with 180 votes for, 30 against and 26 abstentions, in an initiative led by Crin Antonescu and Victor Ponta.
Under the new electoral system, deputies and senators who win the most votes in the ward they are contesting will be elected. In addition, in districts where minorities make up over 7 percent of the population, their representatives will also receive an additional parliamentary mandate. The threshold was removed and a provision that the ward boundaries will remain the same as in 2008 was adopted.
On paper it all sounds good: may the best man or woman win! But what does this voting system mean?
The single vote system is currently used in the United States and Great Britain. Individual candidates are voted in directly, as opposed to being taken from lists drawn up by political parties. It is a system of majority voting, based on a majority procedure (voting on lists being a proportional system) and comes under the formula “winner takes all”.
The system promises many wonderful things for which Romanians have protested in the streets. Experts say that under this system corrupt or compromised politicians cannot sneak into Parliament under cover of parliamentary party lists. A direct vote for one candidate or the other expresses much more exactly the electorate’s option.
What’s more, this system promises to generate a parliamentary majority, which leads to greater political stability, essential if we look at the list of major projects in which Romania could be involved but to which it has always said “in the future…”.
The single vote system is not bullet-proof. Specialists say the system does not guarantee that the popular vote is well represented by the end result. An example is the 2005 general election in Britain, where the Labour Party won a majority in Parliament with just 35.3 percent of the vote.
In Romania, there is another danger: compromised politicians, for whom no party would take responsibility, could reach Parliament by other route. A “precedent” is the case of Marian Vanghelie, who was booted out the Social Democrat Party (PSD) after being questioned in an corruption case, but entered Bucharest’s Sector 5 City Hall as an independent and was welcomed back into the PSD fold. Nor should we forget the cases of some local characters who crave a position in Parliament and promise Romanians tens of thousands of euro, for example Dan Diaconescu.
The Ponta-Antonescu system has many detractors. During the parliamentary debate, representatives of nongovernmental organizations protested against the adoption of this bill from the meeting room balconies.
The Democrat Liberal Party (PDL) said it would appeal against the uninominal voting system at the Constitutional Court. The announcement was made by Deputy Sulfina Barbu. She said the Social Liberal union (USL) had, in a gesture of contempt for the Romanian people, voted to increase Parliament to at least 481 MPs. She added that the PDL had intended to reduce the number of MPs to 300, as evidenced in a referendum it had organized a while ago.
Moreover, Cezar Preda, president of PDL Buzau, called the new arrangements “a bad system, which diminishes democracy” – but for which the PDL had campaigned a while ago.
Even those who voted for the new system don’t seem entirely convinced it will do much good. Minority leader Varujan Pambuccian said his group had voted for the election law so the outcome of such a system was clear. This would make it obvious that the system should be redesigned, and the idea of a purely uninominal system would fade away. “We always conduct experiments. Things go wrong, after which we change direction, usually heading off in an even worse one. It all stops when things go very wrong,” said Pambuccian.
If this is how our representatives think and act, it does not bode well for our future.



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