This is a guest post by Cristina Bucur, Dublin City University
The legislative elections held last Sunday in Romania were won by the government coalition led by Victor Ponta, the prime minister and leader of the Social-Democrat Party (PSD), and Crin Antonescu, the leader of the Liberal Party (PNL). Contesting the election as the Social-Liberal Union (USL), the two parties won 59% of the votes cast and 67% of the parliamentary seats. Despite this huge parliamentary majority, the USL’s vote is not much greater than the sum of the separate scores obtained by the two parties in 2008, when they won 52% of the vote. On the other hand, President Băsescu’s Democrat Liberals (PDL) suffered a clear-cut defeat, as their share of the vote shrank from the 32% obtained in 2008 to just under 17% of the votes and 14% of the parliamentary seats in 2012. The PDL contested the election as part of the Right Romanian Alliance (ARD), a pre-electoral coalition formed with several small centre-right parties. A third party, the PP-DD, which is a new populist party created by Dan Diaconescu, an eccentric media baron and TV talk show host, won 14% of the vote and 68 seats. The only other party that managed to exceed the 5% national threshold was the Hungarian minority party, the UDMR, which won 5% of the vote and 28 seats.
The relative margins of the USL’s victory and the ARD’s defeat can be better grasped if one takes into account the mechanics of the Romanian electoral system.
The Romanian version of a mixed electoral system combines a single round of voting in single-member constituencies with a two-round system of seat allocation for parties that surpass an electoral threshold of 5%. Only those candidates who win over 50% of the votes in single-member constituencies are automatically elected. The remaining seats are distributed among the political parties first at the county level (using the Hare quota) and then at the national level (according to the d’Hondt method), provided they pass the 5% threshold. The result is that the number of parliamentary seats is flexible. The number of deputies will increase if a party is able to elect its candidates with 50% of the vote in the single-member constituencies. For example, imagine the situation where ten seats were up for election and where, proportionally, seven were won by the USL, two by the ARD, and one by the PP-DD. However, now imagine that USL candidates were elected in all ten single-member constituencies. In that case, three additional seats would have to be added to the total number of parliamentary seats in order to satisfy the overall proportionality of the vote. Thus, the more single-member constituencies a party wins, the less likely it is to benefit from the redistribution at the county level and from the supplementation of seats at the national level. The opposite is true for parties that are not able to win single-member constituencies systematically.
At the 2012 election, there were 452 single-member constituencies, 315 for the election of deputies and 137 for the election of senators. In 2008, the redistribution of mandates increased the number of seats by only 1. The 2008-2012 legislature was thus made up of 471 MPs. By contrast, in 2012 an additional 118 seats were generated because of the USL’s success in the single-member constituencies, bringing the total number of MPs to 588. (As a side note, the results of a referendum organised in 2009 indicated that the Romanians were in favour of reducing the number of parliamentarians to a maximum of 300 persons.) Around 28% of the members in the 2012-2016 legislature will have won their seat due to the combined mechanisms of seat redistribution and supplementation. The scale of the USL’s victory and the extent of the ARD’s defeat are revealed by the extent to which each party benefitted from the mechanics of the electoral rules: while only one of the 395 seats won by the USL was attributed by supplementation, 55 of the 80 seats allocated to the ARD coalition were obtained in this way. For the PP-DD, 61 out of 68 seats were allocated through supplementation, whereas for the UDMR only one of its 27 seats was artificially created.
Overall, these results confirm the calculations made by all political parties in the political debate that surrounded the PSD-PNL’s attempt to change the electoral law in May 2012 in order to introduce a first-past-the-post (FPTP) system at the national level. While the main government parties did not benefit at all from the redistribution mechanism entailed by the current mixed system, almost 70% of the ARD parliamentarians would not have been elected in the new legislature had the FPTP electoral bill not been turned down by the Constitutional Court in June 2012.
Cristina Bucur is nearing completion of her PhD on principal-agent theory and ministerial deselection at Dublin City university