Analysis Voices of Europe 2024 | Romania

Identity, anger, fear and hope drive Romanians to the polls

In Romania the 2024 European elections are reflecting a rise in anger-driven politics. Extremist parties are gaining ground amid discontent, while their mainstream counterparts are struggling to address complex issues. Identity politics and fear dominate.

Published on 2 April 2024 at 09:13
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In many ways, Romania's 2024 European elections are mirroring what happened in its last parliamentary election four years ago. But there are some differences in terms of the political players, especially for those challenging the status quo. In the absence of a big issue for people to rally around or against, the current campaign is driven more by anger, fear – but also a touch of hope. To better understand, let us take a brief look back at what has happened since 2020.

Anger at the rule of the Social Democrats (PSD) was a major motivator for voters in 2020, leading to significant parliamentary gains for parties that capitalised on it. The liberal USR won 15.5% of the vote while the far-right Alianța pentru Unitatea Românilor (AUR) made a remarkable surge, going from 1% to 9% of the vote in just a few months.

So at the end of that first pandemic year, the Social Democrats were voted out of power after seven years of almost total domination. It was widely believed to be a triumph for reformers and a fresh start for meaningful change. But what was essentially a protest vote left Romania's liberal president, Klaus Iohannis, unimpressed.

After a brief spell in power in coalition with the liberal-right PNL and the centre-right Hungarian-minority UDMR, the USR was brutally ousted from power after just nine months when Iohannis decided to exploit tensions within the coalition to force the PNL to govern with their political opponents from the Social Democrats. This flagrantly contradicted what the majority of Romanians had voted for.

It was a decisive move. The only pro-European party that genuinely promoted reform had been depicted as incapable of governing and was sent into opposition. The stage was set for the anger vote to redirect itself towards the only "fresh" anti-establishment party – the nationalist-extremist AUR. Since then, the AUR has steadily grown from 9% to over 20.6% in the polls (INSCOP, March 2024).

It now occupies second place behind the PSD-PNL alliance, trailed by an ever-shrinking USR, which is garnering 13.7% of voter intentions as part of a small alliance of centre-right parties.

The anger vote is also fuelli…

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