By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest
When a Romanian politician bumps into a problem he definitely fixes it…his own way. Meaning he goes across lots and, irrespective of the means, he gets the problem solved. This is what the Romanian PM has done this week, passing an emergency ordinance which allows mayors and other local elected officials, such as county councilors, to change parties without losing the office, as the law stipulated before this new controversial amendment. But why would someone encourage political migration? More interesting, why would a PM encourage it two months before the presidential elections?
The answer comes easy. Social-democrat PM Victor Ponta is running in this fall’s elections and the local ions when the party scored below the established target. Why? Because some local barons, as the Romanian media labeled them, those influential local officials, such as mayors and heads of county councils, refused to put all their energy into the electoral campaign, either because the Euro-elections don’t raise much interest among the voters or because they wanted to give Ponta a warning. With many of them nabbed by justice in serious corruption affairs, they wanted to put pressure on Ponta to subdue the judicial system and as Ponta floundered, they chose to sit crossed-arms and let the electoral campaign deploy by itself. In the countryside, a mayor is vital for an electoral campaign and his words weigh tons before the local voters.
Ponta says the ordinance is designed to unblock the activity in the town halls and councils. The reality is the following: after the social-democrats broke up with the liberals (now the main opposition party), the majorities they held in the territory also came apart. For instance, out of the 41 counties, the social-democrats control only 18 counties. With the social-democrat mayors and councilors unable to push their agenda, they called on the Government for help. Even more, some voices say mayors of the opposition parties are being blackmailed with state funds if they do not change party, especially those in small town and communes largely dependent on money from the central government. And hence the controversial emergency ordinance which again raised eyebrows.
The US Embassy in Bucharest questioned the timing of this measure, hinting at the forthcoming presidential elections in which Ponta is, for now, favorite. In its turn, the British Embassy recommended emergency ordinances should be used as rarely as possible, as the Romanian Constitution stipulates. Admitting the law on the status of the local elected officials is an internal matter, “the British Government appreciates legislative changes fall under the competence of the democratically elected Parliament”.
Last but not least, the representation of the European Commission in Romania pointed to the risk that emergency ordinances affect the quality of the legislative acts because they are usually passed without prior public debates, which raises questions about transparency. In a public reaction, President Traian Basescu slammed the proposal as “grossly unconstitutional” and called on the Romanian Government to withdraw the project. Basescu accused PM Victor Ponta is seeking to pass this emergency decree to gain electoral benefits out of it. “Ponta needs this migratory mayors emergency ordinance like fresh air so he becomes president”, Basescu said.
The measure betrays” Ponta’s fear”, the President further said. “He knows he cannot win the presidential elections and is trying to create himself incorrect advantages 10 weeks before the elections” he added. Basescu called on the Ombudsman to lodge a complaint at the Constitutional Court if the Government passes the decree which it did. The Ombudsman is the only authority who can challenge an emergency ordinance at the Constitutional Court, but the position is politically filled.
The civil society also called on PM Ponta not to resolve by force the political deadlocks at the local level. According to a study done by the Institute of Public Policies, about 83 per cent of the local councils in Romania are currently blocked due to a change in the majority and projects sit on the table with no chance of being approved. But the institute pointed out the new emergency ordinance shows the “despair” of the ruling party to use even questionable juridical leverage to ensure control over the local administrations. Instead of that, local politicians should negotiate new majorities on a local level instead of seeking the brutal intervention of the government, it also showed.