It’s our right to vote.

Posted on 07. November 2014

by Doru Toma

Doru TomaBucharest, November 5, 2014

In communist times, Romanians were always queuing, even if they had no idea what they were queuing for; it’s in our nature to wait in line. During the first round of the Presidential Elections, tens of thousands of Romanians queued on Sunday (November 2nd, 2014) in front of their embassies and consulates across Europe for a basic right: the right to vote. London, Paris, Brussels, Rome, Madrid, Munich, Turin and Vienna (and the list goes on) witnessed hundreds of meters and thousands of people forming a waiting line. Most of them were turned away and were denied the right to vote after hours of waiting, up to 6 hours in London and up to 10 hours in Munich.

Claiming that they needed to tackle electoral fraud (the so-called ‘electoral tourism’ or multiple voting phenomenon has been a common practice in the past 25 years of free elections in Romania), the Government voted on a new ordinance in July, declaring that people who wouldn’t be voting in their own hometown or village could vote anywhere (not only in special voting sections as until now), if they would fill out a statutory declaration in front of a ‘commission’, stating explicitly that they had exercised their voting rights somewhere else.

In the capital city of Bucharest, voting procedures were slowed down and hundreds of students didn’t manage to vote because of the lack of statutory declarations. Abroad, even more procedures had been imposed, while fewer voting bureaus had been organised and less stamps had been given by the ‘commissions’.

Social media reacted in the afternoon to the huge queues abroad and in the main university campus in Bucharest, and exploded in the evening with an impressive number of photos, videos and testimonies; a protest was spontaneously organised in front of the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Bucharest; hundreds of people gathered so show their solidarity with those who had been prevented from voting in London, Munich, Paris and Vienna. Protesters were asking for a time extension for abroad voting and the resignation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Meanwhile, the French police was called to evacuate the courtyard of the Palais Behague, the seat of the Romanian Embassy in Paris; they insulted the Romanian citizens  and called the country “une poubele” (garbage bin).

London, November 2

In Romania, TV-stations and newspapers reported these incidents from abroad, depending on their strategic and political interests. The next day, social media continued to bring out new footage and stories. Individual/co-signed letters as well as petitions of associations of students or communities abroad flooded the internet, giving a strong signal of discontent.  With the help of some journalists and civil society organisations, Romanian voters abroad were informed about the legal procedures, enabling them to start filling in and submitting official complaints against the Government to the Prosecutor’s Office.

On November 16, Romanians will once again cast their vote, this time either for the social-democrat Prime Minister Victor Ponta (40,44%), who’s aiming to consolidate his power, or for his challenger, the ethnic German mayor of Sibiu, Klaus Johannis (30,37%), who is backed by the two main centre-right parties. Although analysts consider the chances for an overthrow of the current government to be very slim, no one knows what the outcome will be after the incidents in the Diaspora. Some 160.000 Romanians managed to cast their vote abroad in the first round; that’s 70% more than in the first round in 2009. Keeping in mind that thousands of potential voters were left out and that the the electoral battle between Ponta and Johannis is considered to be much more important, it is estimated that  approximately 200.000 people will try to find their way to a voting booth on November 16. Compared to the more than 3 million Romanians who are living abroad and have the right to vote this figure might seem insignificant, but with a low voter turnout back home (only 53% voter turnout in the first round), the Diaspora community can play a decisive role in the final battle.

According to the law, incidents in the voting bureaus can have penal repercussions. Denying the right to vote to those inside the voting bureaus at closing time, being forced to fill out a complicated form only in front of a commission and having to stand in line for 2, 4 or even 8 hours should all be considered as restrictions on the democratic right to vote.

Creating all sorts of barriers will only make people angry, especially those that take the time to care and act for the fate of their home country, even if they are far from home. Nowadays, Romania is one of the biggest “exporters” of workers in the European Union, but that does not mean that these people don’t consider the idea of coming back home one day. They are the ones that are sending billions of Euros to Romania each year, money that is vital for the national economy.

There are many solutions, but no government ever took into consideration the introduction of the correspondence or electronic vote. Hopefully, organisers will have the decency to implement emergency measures to avoid such incidents in the future.

The recent elections have shown just how fragile our democracy still is. The right to vote was only (re)gained in Romania during the 1989 revolution, after 1142 people had lost their lives. Romania deserves a new President elected by all those willing to exercise their right to vote.