Fifty Areas of Grey – Genuine Acts of Justice or Political Revenge?

Romania, 26 Apr - 23 May 2015
Updates from the battle field: the extra mile Dragnea shouldn't have run ++ Romanian civil society fights to stop massive deforestations ++ An impartial opinion or a political bias? How access to the internet influences Romanian voters. by Eva Chitul, Flavian-Catalin Pah, Lavinia Manea
Updates from the battle field: the extra mile Dragnea shouldn't have run

What goes around, comes around, seems to be the newly-adopted motto of the Romanian justice, which has recently decided on the condemnation of a significant number of public figures. The most recent political scandal involves the – now resigning – Minister of Development and Executive President of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), Liviu Dragnea. Following the 2012 referendum on the suspension of the Romanian president – at that time – Traian Băsescu, a criminal investigation was opened, leading to Dragnea and over 70 mayors and representatives of PSD being charged of by-passing the law in their attempt to overthrow President Băsescu.

Băsescu an independent and former member of the Democratic Party (PD), was suspended by the Parliament in July 2012 – for the second time after a similar act in 2007 –, which called for a public referendum on his dismissal. The president can only be suspended if a quorum is reached, representing roughly 60 percent of Romanian voters. To ensure the requirements would be met, several members of PSD sent updates from the voting sections, informing the party's headquarters about the voter turnout and the voting results, thus breaking the secrecy of vote. This method allowed the headquarters to identify the voting sections with the lowest turnout, or those where people voted against the president's suspension, and consequently send SMS to citizens from those areas to encourage them to go out and vote for dismissal.

While campaigning on the voting day and using citizens' private data to contact them for political purposes was used by both parties and apparently lies in the grey area of lawfulness, breaking the secrecy of vote surely equals to running an extra mile – in the wrong direction. After more than two years since the referendum, Dragnea received one year in jail with suspension, a decision which – however – is not final and can be contested further.

Given the seriousness of the situation, it becomes difficult to point unequivocally to what pushed the social democrats to take such risks. While a cannon-fodders scenario seems plausible in the case of some quasi-anonymous mayors, it is hard to understand why a high-ranking politician would make such a decision. Revealing, though, might be the declarations of Liviu Dragnea himself, who stated that the verdict was a hard blow given to democracy. The current Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, – a social democrat himself – supported Dragnea all the way, refusing to deem the verdict as being fair and pointing to a political revenge instead.

While the political scene makes it difficult to distinguish between said political revenges and genuine acts of justice – with the two often coexisting – a society whose legal grey areas are generated and maintained not by the laws but by the public attitudes of those who broke them in the first place, has yet a long way to go before coming clean.

Romanian civil society fights to stop massive deforestations

Hundreds of thousands of hectares of Romanian forest have disappeared since 1990. Private companies, small and large forest owners, the lack of protective measures from several governments; all contributed to a phenomenon that can easily be called “the robbery of Romanian green gold”. New data, recently published by Romanian news agencies, shows up worrying facts and figures and marked the starting point of a fierce debate between President Klaus Iohannis and Prime Minister Victor Ponta. Furthermore, it sparked – once again – street protests.

Why was this possible? In recent years an increasing number of private companies and individuals made big profits from exploiting Romanian woodland (a hectare of forest wood is worth more than 5,000 euros), ignoring environmental risks and legislative sanctions. At the turn of the century, permissive legislation made it possible for private companies and individuals (especially foreign companies) to conclude exploitation contracts with the Romanian state. This is how hundreds of hectares of forest are still exported every day, even after the negative outcome of the exploitation have become obvious.

At the beginning of the year, Parliament proposed new legislation that was criticised by experts and the public alike. The public reacted promptly, speaking out against some provisions supposedly allowing private companies to continue cutting large amounts of wood. Thus, on May 9th, peaceful street protests took place in 26 Romanian cities. 5,000 demonstrators took to the streets in the capital city Bucharest alone. Subsequently, President Iohannis has refused to sign the draft bill passed by Parliament and sent it back to the legislative forum for another reading.

An impartial opinion or a political bias? How access to the internet influences Romanian voters

After more than four months since the 2014 presidential elections, the INSCOP research center published its most recent numbers portraying population confidence in public figures and the Romanian party voting intentions. President Klaus Iohannis has an increasing lead of population confidence (65 percent) since his election. Second-place is claimed by Mugur Isarescu, Governor of the country's central bank BNR (Banca Națională a României) with 42.1 percent, followed by George Maior, former director of the Romanian Information Service (SRI) with 24.8 percent. Following his defeat in the 2014 Presidential elections, Prime Minister Victor Ponta (Social Democratic Party) has levelled his downward trend (24.4 percent).

According to latest public opinion polls, there are two main contenders for political power: the National Liberal Party (PNL) and a coalition between the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the National Union for Romanian Progress (UNPR) and the Conservative Party (PC). Although public favour was originally balanced, PNL’s position of strength is on the rise amongst the general populace (44.7 percent); meanwhile, PSD’s position dwindles (39.1 percent).

Computer literacy is limited in Romania

An EU Commission report in 2011 found that 54 percent of the Romanian population had never used the Internet (the EU had a 27 percent average); this was the highest percentage within the European Union. Latest research has shown that only 65 percent have access to the Internet, indicating that the general populace has a restriction in information sources. The research elaborated further to show that 45 percent of the general populace had either a Facebook or a Twitter account. Both provide an alternative opportunity for social communication to mass media and the Orthodox Church.

Support for the PNL is echoed in the INSCOP’s research; 48.8 percent (populace with internet) show support for PNL compared to only 34.4 for the PSD alliance. Likewise those without internet access, 46.7 percent support the PSD coalition whilst 37.8 percent are in favour of the liberals. A trend has appeared indicating that individuals who use social media show a liberal preference compared to those who do not. Providing an additional platform to debate issues allows individuals a greater chance to form objective and well-rounded opinions on political issues.

It is important to note that everyone has their own political affiliations and are inherently biased, no matter whether it was written by a newspaper, the Church (who are actively influencing voters based on political donations) or a blogger, one can only hope the average Romanian voter will be further enlightened in the years to come. There is no such thing as an impartial opinion.

RO_2015-4_CR_Liviu Dagnea
Source: Partidul Social Democrat | CC BY 2.0

Liviu Dragnea, resigning Minister of Development and Executive President of the Social Democratic Party (PSD)

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