All the pretty words about a different, better country repeated by Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta throughout the presidential campaign lost their sweet promise the moment people had to queue up in front of Romanian embassies around the world to vote on Sunday. In the days leading up to the election, Ponta, of the Social Democratic Party, had spoken about finally bringing the period of transition to an end. He stressed the need to build up what he called “a democratic and European land.”
But with the opening of the polls, this “better Romania” vanished in unprecedented chaos, especially abroad, where Romanian citizens were denied access to the electoral offices required to cast a ballot. There is no such thing as a postal vote in Romania. Therefore, Romanian expats must travel to their embassies and consulates in order to participate in the elections. But on Sunday, no one inside those buildings seemed keen on allowing them this right. Thousands were simply turned away and sent home. The official explanation was that there were not enough stamps and ballots. The unofficial explanation is that the diaspora tends to vote for the wrong party, at least in the eyes of the current government.
And yet no member of the Romanian government has assumed responsibility for what happened at embassies in London, Paris, Vienna and elsewhere. Ponta, the country’s leader, has been dismissive. He ended up with the most votes in the first round of the elections, and is now busy arranging new alliances under a new populist roof of folkloric promises.
Ponta, who likes to point to his relative youth in order to absolve himself of any associations with the communist past, has thus proven yet again that he is not keen on breaking with the old system. More than that, he is the guarantor of its continuity.
In the 25 years since the Romanian revolution, the country has seen its share of bad politicians, and from various parties. But what happened on Sunday reminds us that Romania can still shift rapidly away from anything Europe supposedly stands for.