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Romania reeling after bipartisan power grab: PSD-PNL alliance raises fears of constitutional coup.

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Romania has plunged into political chaos this past month as the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the National Liberal Party (PNL) have entered a seemingly unlikely alliance that has raised serious concerns about a coordinated effort to dismantle Romania’s democratic institutions, with critics calling it a bloodless coup.

Romania’s government, led by Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu’s “socialist” party, is facing accusations of eroding democratic processes. The opposition parties and various NGOs claim planned joint elections for the European Parliament and local officials represent an attack on the Constitution and a return to authoritarian practices.

2024 marks a unique year in Romania’s post-communist democracy. Voters will be summoned to the polls a record four times, with separate elections for the European Parliament, local councils, Parliament, and Presidency. This intense electoral marathon has raised concerns about voter fatigue and the logistical challenges of managing such a high volume of polls.

The potential solution? Merging some elections. Proposals have included combining local elections with the MEP's vote in June or aligning the Parliamentary elections with one of the Presidential rounds later in the year. These consolidations could ease the burden on voters and election authorities alike. Or so the ruling parties claim.

However, the proposed simultaneous merger of local and European elections has sparked outrage. Opponents argue that such a move disregards established electoral procedures and undermines the fundamental right of Romanians to freely express their will at the polls. They point out the established jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court, which forbids hasty changes to electoral legislation in election years.

The local elections should have initially taken place in September, but with the latest electoral changes, citizens will be called to vote for their local representatives in June. Critics say that this would create administrative chaos in the country, as Romania will have a parallel system of mayors and city councilors, with ruling officials serving at the same time as elected officials for close to 3 months.

Furthermore, concerns have been raised about the government’s commitment to international obligations, such as the Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters, adopted by the European Commission for Democracy through Law, or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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Romania is a signatory to treaties upholding the essential role of free elections in functioning democracies. Critics argue that holding joint elections directly contradicts these commitments, mainly because the complexity of voting operations may result in the exclusion of voters who, independently of their will, will not be able to vote within the existing legal timeframe.

Analysts remain divided on the motivations behind this unlikely PSD-PNL alliance and the subsequent changes brought to the existing election laws. Some point to flagging poll numbers for both PSD and PNL, suggesting a joint desperate attempt to ensure that the parties will remain in power. Others speculate on the potential for backroom deals, with promises of immunity from corruption charges or lucrative government positions.

Polls predict a dramatic rise for the right-wing AUR party in Romania’s upcoming elections. Analysts suggest AUR could surpass both the National Liberal Party, the junior partner in the ruling coalition, and the Democratic Socialist Party, becoming the largest party in Romania. While AUR is unlikely to join the next government, the party’s growing influence has made some people speculate that the coordinated effort to change the electoral laws was meant to block AUR from threatening the ruling PSD-PNL coalition.

As Romania heads to the polls, one thing is for certain: the international community must remain vigilant in defending democracy and ensuring accountability within the country. The fact that the European Union has remained silent on this issue is worrying, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens in the following weeks.

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