Electoral Geographies in Post-Communist Rural Romania: Neoliberalism & Economic Austerity, Electoral Clientelism and the Social-Democratic Ascendancy

Été 2018
Dr. Aurelian Giugăl, University of Bucharest

The list of acronyms 

  1. Left-wing spectrum:
  • 1996: Social Democracy Party of Romania – PDSR;
  • 2000: Social Democratic Pole of Romania – PDSR;
  • 2004: National Union PSD + PUR – PSD-PUR; 
  • 2008: Alliance PSD + PC – PSD-PC; 
  • 2012: Social Liberal Union – USL;
  • 2016: Social Democratic Party – PSD. 
  1. Right-wing spectrum: 
  • 1996: Romanian Democratic Convention – CDR;
  • 2000: Romanian Democratic Convention 2000 – CDR 2000;
  • 2004: Justice and Truth Alliance – DA; 
  • 2008: Democratic Liberal Party – PDL; 
  • 2012: Right Romania Alliance – ARD;
  • 2016: National Liberal Party – PNL. 

Motto: “…ordinarily, defiance is first expressed in the voting booth simply because, whether defiant or not, people have been socialized within a political culture that defines voting as the mechanism through which political change can and should properly occur…” / Francis Fox Piven, R. A. Cloward(1977). Poor People’s Movement. Why They Succeed. How They Fail, New York: Vintage Books, p. 15. 


In post-communist Romania nine national elections (2016 is the latest electoral year) have taken place so far in order to assign the representatives for the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The political confrontation was delineated by the dispute between the National Salvation Front (and its avatars1) versus other parties, denominated rather formally, as being right-wing. When we speak about these parties we have in mind the following political parties: the Romanian Democratic Convention (CDR) – the 1996 Parliamentary elections, CDR 2000 – the 2000 elections, the Justice and Truth Alliance (DA) – 2004, the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL) – 2008, the Right Romanian Alliance (ARD) – 2012 and the National Liberal Party – 2016. The general national framework has been established on the frontline separating neo-communists vs. anti-communists in the first decade post-1989. Afterwards, the gap between corruption vs. anticorruption has triggered any political debate in the second post-communist decade. As a consequence of the communist past, the neo-communist tendency (besides the incriminating label of corruption) has been dispatched indiscriminately to the social-democrats because they are still heavily indebted to the historical revolts of December 1989 and the miners’ protests throughout the 1990s. The anti-communist (anticorruption) axis is right-wing defined in Romania. Leaving aside the discursive element of the present political differences, a certain ideological development has structured the local political experience. In the post-1996 interval, the political establishment was unanimously in favour of neoliberal policies, the ideological cleavages having been rather nuanced. 

The post-communist nationalistic neo-developmentalism, focused rather on creating local capitalists and less prone to social equity2, has lasted for a short period of time, up until the dismissal of its supporters, right after CDR’s electoral win in 19963. The social-democrats were/are, to a limited extent, responsible for certain social policies and have attempted to protect, by certain social measures, its own electoral pool, while the right-wing governments (CDR after 1996, PDL after 2008) have discarded the shabby welfare state and have exposed most Romanian citizens to cynical market forces. Having considered these slight differences in terms of the overall economic policy backed up by the opposing parties, the general political discourse has rather seemed a childish game between the so-called communists & anti-communists or corruption & anti-corruption. This turned out to be the accidental middle ground, structured by the economic turbulent evolution, which has been the focal political point in the last twenty-five years in Romania. At the time when economic policies have begun to produce various social consequences, from thedeindustrialization process to high levels of unemployment or to the rise of economic inequalities between the existing social classes and the demographic fall (including massive migration), the electing citizens have sided towards the party which offered/offers a minimal level of social security. 

The 2016 elections clearly underlined this situation – it was a landslide electoral success for the social-democrats. As far as the rural world is concerned – the subject of the current paper –, there has been a trans-electoral consensus at the national level: the social-democrats have won first place in most Romanian rural settlements. It is nothing new that similar electoral outcomes were even registered in the 1996 and 2004 general elections, when the right-wing parties have dominated at the national level. Undoubtedly, certain differences in terms of electoral magnitude have existed (and still exist) between the geographical regions in Romania, which the present article aims to highlight. What does this paper want to achieve? By using the data from the parliamentary elections in the interval 1996-2016 (the Chamber of Deputies), we will show that:

  1. The social-democratic predominance in the rural areas has been a quasi-general one, with some minor regional exceptions (in 1996 and 2004, the right-wing parties have been in the forefront in both Transylvania and Banat). The regional mapping has the following structure:

Dobrudja(Constanța and Tulcea counties);

Moldavia&Bukovina(Bacău, Botoșani, Galați, Iași, Neamț, Suceava, Vaslui and Vrancea);

Muntenia-Wallachia(Argeș, Brăila, București, Buzău, Călărași, Dâmbovița, Giurgiu, Ialomița, Ilfov, Prahova and Teleorman);

Oltenia-Little Wallachia(Dolj, Gorj, Mehedinți, Olt and Vâlcea);

TransylvaniaBanat(Alba, Arad, Bihor, Bistrița-Năsăud, Brașov, Caraș-Severin, Cluj, Hunedoara, Maramureș, Mureș, Sălaj, Satu Mare, Sibiu and Timiș).

We exclude from the current analysis the counties of Covasna and Harghita. Their dominant Hungarian population and, subsequently, the vote for the parties that represent their interests are not relevant for the current analysis. 

  1. The political system, especially in the rural areas, has developed in the direction of political bipolarity. If in the first post-communist decade the parties which passed the threshold had been numerous, the overall percentages of the first two political parties were slightly over 50%. Later on, especially after 2004, the situation changed dramatically, e.g. one party could win over 75% or even more. Electoral clientelism has become rampant. The mayors, through the means of distributed state-owned centralized resources, have managed to strengthen their local power. In the last years, in the period in which some voters and the officials have been prosecuted in court, the local authorities’ involvement in the election process has dwindled, resulting some (minor) changes in terms of the electoral outcome.

In the next section we will summarize the electoral behaviour in post-1989 Romania. Afterwards, we will refer to the geographical space, defined both materially and discursively. We will try to highlight the most of the geographical inequalities which are (also) the result of historical disparities, deepened by the post-communist capitalist transition. We will then analyse the electoral geography in the already mentioned directions.

Electoral behaviour: studies and analyses

Asystematicanalysis of the electoral behavior in post-1989 Romania does not exist. Certainly, there are numerous studies dedicated to local, general, presidential and EU parliamentary elections. Their limits consist in the fact they have a lot of gaps (covering only certain elections) and are not properly integrated in the flow of academic & intellectual debates. They are self-sufficient as if hanging over an epistemological void. It is only due to the efforts of some scholars, in search for valid references that might unleash them from the confines of the portfolios. It is the technical articles that abound, i.e. those studies concerning the candidates’ selection process, the political parties’ financing, the electoral reform, electoral systems etc. Mihail Chiru and Sergiu Gherghina are the most knowledgeable political scientists in this regard4. In the specific case of the electoral sociology, ‘the determinants of political preferencesʼ5, such as the educational level, age group, gender, residentship, financial status or religious beliefs (the so called socio-economic and demographic attributes), have gone in the well-known usual direction: at the presidential elections of 2009, the sympathizers (and voters) of Mircea Geoanăhave preponderantly been described as poor, old, religious and stemming from the rural areas6. By contrast, those with a high level of education, above average wages, the youth etc. were more tended to vote with right-wing parties. There were/are still regional differences between the Banat & Transylvania and Oltenia & Moldavia, the first being more liberal and reform-inclined, anti-PSD, while in the case of the eastern and south regions PSD has been the only electoral option, which is a sort of structural capitalism with some social protection and clientelistic networks with socio-political function. As time elapsed, these electoral distinctions have been leveled down. The political economy of Romanian post-communism has always been quite rough, smoothing the old delimitations. In fact, the question of a minimal survival has consumed the electorates’ political energy: economic immigration to the West or (economically) facing the challenges in Romania have been their foremost issue. The political and ideological dimension, the polis and its turmoil, the question of democracy have all gradually faded away as part of the usual political party activity in Romania. The present situation is one in which PSD gets to be voted not just by the poor classes of the society, as a lot of people imagine it to happen, but also by most of the state bureaucracy7. This is, of course, absolutely right and understandable in the Romanian post-communist capitalism. After the post-1989deindustrialization process, together with the vanishing away of the jobs in small towns and the rural cooperatives, the emergency solution, the only social solution available in this post-communist world came together with the aggrandizement of the state apparatus. In 2017, the number of positions occupied in public institutions and other national authorities is 1,205,151, part of which, 698,484, is in the local administration8. Within the election process per se, the type of political economy illustrated by the retrospective vote does matter. A job in the public sector becomes an essential requirement in the fight for survival. Hence, the clientelistic networks function as a social security measure. They constitute local arrangement that serve a real economic function. 

Geography matters: different geographies, different economies 

Space and the geographical location are both built materially and discursively. Each geographical space is loaded with a long economic, political, ethnic and class-based history9. However, the unequal development – the geographical inequalities are particularized by common vulnerabilities to the neoliberal growth – is not an historical accident, but part and parcel of the capitalist mode of production and accumulating process. It is also the distinguishing element of the capitalist geography, the expressions of the structural contradictions of capital itself, the sole matter of a rather structural inequality and less a statistical one10. To put it shortly, capitalist societies develop unequally11. In his The Development of Capitalism in Russia, Lenin was aware of the inherent spatial differences which accompany the expansion of capitalism and the spatial division of labor12. The spatial capitalist praxis includes the workers too, their assigned role being important in what the geographical economy of capitalism is all about13. Samir Amin talks about the distinction between the underdeveloped areas and the developed ones starting from the differences between the economic sectors at the beginning of the capitalist mode of production, the underdeveloped areas in Asia, Africa and South America14, defined as trade zones of raw material export to the industrialized parts of Western Europe and, later on, North America15. In this framework, there is one kind of economic development in the core areas, with its own production and consumption cycles, while in the peripheries another type of economy has sprung up, focused on an export-based economy and luxury goods’ consumption, a situation which led to the creation and reinforcing of developmental unbalances16.

Proceeding on the case of Romania, it is a common sense thing to say that the country was a Western European semi-periphery in the nineteenth century. The liberalization of commerce after the Treaty of Adrianople (1829) changes the country in a net exporter of cereals for the industrialized countries in Western Europe17. Certainly, the capitalist structure in the Romanian Old Regime has been more complex. What is, however, essential is the fact of the established production relations after the state became a consolidated mass producer of cash crops – the landowners (the boyars), who had most of the agricultural fields, have perpetuated a substantial peasantry18. The economic changes dating back to the Communist period (1948-1989) significantly alters the social structure in Romania because of the obvious industrialization process. Nevertheless, almost half of the country’s population (approximately 45%) was still living in the countryside after fifty years under the sway of a socialist regime. The nationalization of the agricultural land (collectivization) has brought about a particular form of rural economy around the agricultural collectives and the petty services related to it. After 1989, the private property in agricultural land would lead to another type of agriculture, i.e. subsistence agriculture. The advent of agricultural farmers has been a difficult one and is still limited in extent. In this last case, the lack of the necessary capital has been highly important. The liberalization of the Romanian economy and the mass import of agricultural products harvested in a landowning regime have ruined to an even higher degree the local agricultural producers, hence the shabby subsistence agriculture and migration – both internal and external – have become the last recourse for the peasant population. 

It is this rural population which represents the subject of the current electoral analysis. In the classical cleavage, the village dwellers (together with workers from industrialized areas) tended to vote for social-democratic parties19. Important changes in the electoral sociology and geography have been recently registered. What Pulzer used to write about class-identity a century ago – for the British political parties, the social class meant everything20– has been thinned in the last decades. For example, at the UK parliamentary elections in 2010, class structure and the socio-demographic variables explain little in terms of the electoral disparities, an insignificant 6% in vote fluctuations21. The political performance is the main subject in contemporary democracies, the voters considering the activity of the major parties in relation to political and social questions (sustainable growth, a small inflation rate, little unemployment rate, quality public services in areas such as education, health care, transportation and the environmental protection22). Undoubtedly, the electoral behavior of the population is built differently in the semi-peripheries of the old industrial democracies. The communist centralized economy and its downfall after 1989 have been structurally influencing the electoral modal ever since. The type of political economy is relevant in the electoral logic, while the economic crisis of 2008-2012 forms a defining variable in the post-1989 electoral framework. The economic poverty experienced by the countryside has been essential in the creation and the consolidation of the clientelistic electoral forms – this clientelistic topic is not going to be addressed at this point. Unemployed citizens, lacking any symbolic capital, could be easily integrated into the patronage and electoral coercive-control system. With or without clientelism, with or without the economic crisis, we will show that in the rural areas, where post-communist capitalist relations were established, the social-democrats largely prevail. The economic recession and the neo-liberal policies of center right-wing political parties have strengthened to an even higher degree this electoral reality.

The social-democratic ascendency in the rural world 

This has taken place all the time since 1996 up until now. In 1996, CDR has won the elections at the national level (we should remind the reader that we are only using the parliamentary elections’ data, the Chamber of Deputies) – CDR – 30.16%, PDSR – 21.52% (a voting ratio – CDR/PDSR – of 1.40). In the same parliamentary elections, the electoral reality has been almost reversed in the rural localities, 29.57% for PDSR and 22.2% for CDR respectively (a voting ratio of 1.30). Twenty years later, at the parliamentary elections in 2016, the social-democrats reported a landslide win, both nationally (45.5% – PSD, 20% – PNL: a voting ratio of 2.28) and in the rural localities (51.8% – PSD, 22.2% – PNL with a voting ratio of 2.33). If at the national level the electoral turnout in 1996 is the only one in which the social-democrats have been weaker (electorally) than the competition (we have seen above, CDR), in the case of the village areas, the PSD ascendency has been universal – see the table below, where the electoral ratio computed between the social-democrats and their opponents is illustrative in this regard (Table 1).

Table 1.The vote ratio: PDSR/PSD versus CDR/CDR 2000/DA/PDL/ARD/PNL

Parliamentary elections Urban and rural Only rural
1996 0.71 1.30
2000 7.32 12.14
2004 1.25 2.08
2008 1.02 1.19
2012 3.55 4.22
2016 2.28 2.33

Source: the National Institute of Statistics (INS) and the Permanent Electoral Authority (AEP).

Note: The vote ratio is computed by dividing the PDSR percentages to the CDR one (1996), PDSR/CDR 2000 (2000), National Union PSD + PUR/DA (2004), Alliance PSD+PC/PDL (2008), USL/ARD (2012) and PSD/PNL (2016).

What do we notice in regard to these values? The figures in 2000 and 2012 stand out as large. In fact, in the parliamentary elections in 2000, the social-democratic vote has been twelve times larger than the CDR 2000, i.e. or what was left from the former Convention (CDR). In 2016 the difference has been four times larger: the social-democratic ascendency has become unanimous at the national level. The electoral moments in 2000 and 2012 come after neoliberal right-wing governments. In the interval 1996-2000 the CDR has been incumbent (in a party alliance which include, among others, PNTCD and PNL). This was the time when the shock therapy was initially implemented, an economic program that included mass privatizations23, together with shutting down some of the enterprises considered unproductive and economically inefficient. After 1996, paraphrasing Cornel Ban, the shock therapy reached Bucharest (as well), bringing along the harsh contraction of available credit, fiscal austerity measures and structural reforms24. One thing is for sure, that the neoliberal reform mixer had disastrous consequences in regard to the Romanian national economy: the industrial production dropped by 20% in the interval 1996-2000, the waves of unemployed workers doubling the rate of poverty25, while the subsistence agriculture was such a generalized phenomenon that the country had start importing food26.

It has been written/affirmedthat the spectacular defeat of the Conservatives in the general UK elections in May 1997 is representative for the following aspect: the economic growth based on the values of market economy is not sustainable, generating inequality and individualism – the electorate did not vote for this economic program. The post-1980 period has been one of great flourishing for the neoliberal policies. Under the guise ofThatcherismor Reaganism, from the UK to the USA, from New Zealand to Spain, these economic policies have been embraced enthusiastically27. The same thing happened in Romanian, where the harsh reforms, based on pro-market economic policies, have been very active in the post-1996 period, have finally led to the utter electoral failure of the Convention. In 2000, CDR 2000, a compromise formula which was aimed to rescue whatever was left to save after the 1996 shock therapy, was unable to pass the electoral threshold, with historical PNTCD being cast out (perhaps forever) from the Romanian map of significant parties.

A following ensued after 2008: a new neoliberal reinforcing28– what Perry Anderson called ‘the most successful ideology in the history of humanity29– in the period immediately after the reelection of the (then) president Traian Băsescu, a new wave of austerity measures (severe wage cuts of up to 25%, the rise of the VTA to 24%, the elimination of social assistance schemes, including the reduction by 15% of the child-maternity allowance, the state budget predominantly allowing money to investment etc.30) and a new failure of the incumbent party associated with these measures, the democratic-liberals from PDL. In the parliamentary elections of 2012, PDL, the party that is responsible for ‘‘the toughest measures and the most difficult economic decision-makingʼ (Emil Boc), has attempted to hide away and escape from its still recent past. At these general elections, the party changed its name into the Right Romania Alliance (ARD), without reporting any electoral success. With an overall score of 16.51% from all counted votes, the party lost its inner purpose, later dissolving into PNL. In the rural area, the votes in favor of USL (the alliance between the social-democrats and the liberals) has been four times larger than the number of votes for ARD – 59.1% for USL and, respectively, 14% for ARD. The measures in favor of austerity have been penalized in the final electoral results31.

Without any doubt, there are significant regional differences. The electoral behavior in rural Transylvania is not at all similar to the one registered in Oltenia or Moldavia. The more economically precarious are the counties under scrutiny, the higher the vote rate is for the social-democrats. The best results for the social-democrats are reported in counties with a low urban population, underdeveloped economy, where the subsistence agriculture prevails. To make a loophole into more than a century-old history, they are the same counties where the 1907 peasant revolts were at their peak. We are referring to the south counties, such as Teleorman (Vlașca county at that time), Dolj or Olt being among them. A comparison between the PSD vote in these three counties and another three in Transylvania (Alba, Cluj and Sibiu) show remarkable differences. In the three south counties, more specifically, in the rural area, the added percentage for the social-democrats has been almost four times larger (66.59%) than the one in favor of the liberals – 18.64%. In the Transylvanian counties, once again in the rural area, PNL has outdone PSD at a margin, 33.38% to 31.42%

We are talking about geographical space with a different historical development. Since their formations (between the thirteenth and the fourteenth centuries) until their Union in 1859, the southern and eastern parts of the country had been under the Ottoman dominance & influence. Transylvania and the Banat had been, in the period 1250-1918, Hungarian & Austro-Hungarian provinces. These different histories also engulf different demographic and economic trajectories (the urbanization rate has been higher in the Transylvanian counties and lower in the south) and, as we can already see in the post-communist period, different electoral geographies. In fact, the overall vote in these three counties of Transylvania is totally unlike the one in the three south counties. Noticing how capital vagabonds32in the post-1989 decades, its migration to places where the expected profit is above the average seems natural. This is the reason why the capital expansion in Romania, as one could see from the high tech industry’s position, takes place in counties which already possess an economic advantage ahead of others (see, for instance, the industrial parks in Cluj-Napoca, Bucharest etc.). It is same situation as in the old industrial world.33Conversely, as part of what is called ‘backward geographiesʼ, the above mentioned southern poor counties are place where almost nothing takes places, at least from an economic point of view. Irrespective of the gaps in development and opportunity between the regions, the Romanian economic model leads, both in rural and urban areas, to the strengthening of the social-democratic vote. In the graph below (Figure 2; also see the tables in the annex), we can surmise that are obvious regional differences, whereas Moldavia & Bukovina & Oltenia look similar, the voting percentage to the social-democrats is smaller in Transylvania & Banat. However, what is striking is that in all these regions there is an ongoing rising trend for PSD. This could be explained by the fact that all the painful economic situations have constantly backed up the social-democratic vote. 

In the current socio-economic circumstances, the social-democrats act more like embedded conservatives. The rural economic fragility brings votes to their side. Why would they change it? Mutatis mutandis,the social-democrats are more like nineteenth century landowners (boyars): they have to preserve their privileges, their status quo. Or, if you wish, they are acting very much like some charm bracelet peddlers. If they are – as expected – being sold to naïve customers, the politicians do accumulate financial capital. It would be nonsensical that after such a dazzling performance, another peddler should come over and talk to the people about their ignorance and the products’ inefficiency. There is a high risk of too much trivialization here, but this is how matters usually stand. It is absolutely clear that the social-democratic lack any economic future plans for developing the country. At the same time, PSD, like all the other opposing parties, does not have the power to confront the post-communist capitalist spatial structure and its reproductive mechanisms in the semi-peripheries. Hence, the party’s public image is associated with conservative conformism and self-replicating poverty and underdevelopment. 

Political bipolarity and electoral clientelism 

In the first post-communist decade the votes were wasted generously, more parties winning places both in the local and parliamentary elections. For example, the local elections in 1996 for the county councils have listed no less than seventeen parties, which won the majority percentage – the first two parties have cumulated a modest result of 35.66%, divided into 19.44% for CDR and 16.21% for PDSR. Nowadays, almost nobody remembers the Labor Socialist Party (5.16% in the elections), the Agrarian Democratic Party in Romania – 3.20% or the Socialist Party – 2.26%. At the same local elections in 1996, out of 37 seats in the county councils in Tulcea only 12 (almost a third) have been won by the first two parties at the national level, CDR and PDSR. The other 25 have been distributed to the other electoral winners. The Labor Socialist Party – 10.43%, the Agrarian Democratic Party in Romania – 7.22% and the Socialist Party – 5.89% have held together nine council seats. Perhaps the negotiations that have taken place to form a majority

in the county councils have been extremely complex – a political effort that required negotiation and balancing out the civic opinion. The plurality of opinion – a grass-root type of democracy…

Now let’s have a look over the rural areas. In the locality of Cerna (Tulcea county), in the local council elections (1996), the Labor Socialist Party won the second place, ahead of CDR – 21.21% for the socialists and 14.68% for the Convention. Adding up the votes for the Socialist Party (10.31%), the final result was four seats out of thirteen for the two socialist parties. Since PDSR has won five mandates, nine seats out of thirteen (almost 70%) went to left-wing parties. In Olteni, Teleorman county, in the same 1996 local council election, the socialists were the first on the electoral list – the Socialist Party (32.76% and 4 seats out of 13). After the year 2000, the political picture changed drastically. The small parties begin to steadily disappear. The local bosses (pejoratively nicknamed ‘baronsʼ) have begun to organize the clientelistic armies to their own benefit. Undoubtedly, the strategic vote counted as much as before and the parties that did not have complex territorial networks have started to be incorporated by large parties. I. Ciobanu34has done basic computations in this regard, noticing that radical change. For instance, in the parliamentary elections in 1996 (the Chamber of Deputies), out of 3,009 localities, 2,883 (over 95% of the places) have reported that the winning party had less than 50% from valid votes. Therefore, there was enough political space for other local political formations as well. Twelve years later the circumstances have altered in the opposite direction. In the parliamentary elections of 2012 (for the same Chamber of Deputies), out of 2,965 registered localities, 83.07% of them (or 2,463 localities) have reported that the winning party has won over 50% of all available votes. In 889 localities the percentage for the winning party has been higher than 70%. 

In the rural areas, the comparison between the social-democratic vote in the parliamentary elections of 1996 and 2016 shows the same situation: the huge difference between the two electoral events and the massive local electoral growth of the social-democrats. In the parliamentary elections of 1996, in over 12% from a total 8,014 polling stations, PDSR and CDR have won at least or over 50% of all valid votes – 10.29% for PDSR and 2.08% for CDR. Twenty years later, in the 2016 parliamentary elections, the percentage has risen exponentially. In over 65% of all polling stations (10,188 in rural localities), PSD has won at least 50% of all valid votes – 56.62% for PSD and no more than 8.67% for PNL (Table 2). Overall, the ascendency of the first two large parties over the political spectrum in the rural areas is indisputable. The social-democrats control the villages of Romania and the figures in the table below underline this ascendency. Patron-client forms of dependency have been established: the mayor and the local bureaucracy stand for the patron, while the citizens share the client position. The result of the party in elections depends both on the existing territorial political structures and the ability to mobilize people with the help of local authorities. The political parties which are not embedded in the rural geography and do not have significant political networks cannot report significant electoral results. 

Table 2. The parliamentary elections in 1996 and 2016: the polling stations (%) where both the social-democrats and CDR & PNL won more than 50% of the valid votes 

Region 1996 – PDSR (%) 2016 – PSD (%) 2016/1996


Moldavia & Bukovina












Transylvania & Banat*










Region 1996 – CDR (%) 2016 – PNL (%) 2016/1996


Moldavia Bukovina



Transylvania & Banat*



















Source:the National Institute of Statistics (INS) and the Permanent Electoral Authority (AEP).

Note: Transylvania & Banat do not include the Covasna and Harghita counties.

The present cleavage is centered on the electoral contradiction between PSD vs. the rest of the parties. The social-democrats have control of the rural population, but the same party has also encroached the urban dwellers as well – notice the recent PSD electoral success in the ‘liberalʼ Bucharest in contrast to the first post-communist decades. On the other hand, there are many instances which indicate and underlie numerous aspects regarding the current electoral corruption and clientelistic relations. All of the papers which deal with the issues of electoral clientelism refer to this social phenomenon in the moral dimension of enquiring about it: electoral bribing35, forms of dependency (using public funds to pump up the party clientele36), the unprofessional employment of central public functionaries in order to strengthen party domination in the area37, all these are mechanisms that have a negative impact on free and fair elections. It is clear that the political parties use a multitude of methods and electoral strategies (including electoral clientelistic practices) to accomplish their purpose, i.e. winning the elections with as many votes as possible. Most importantly, all these, more or less, legal mechanisms and electoral strategies (the social democrats practice it more, the liberals less) coalesce into a particular type of ultra-liberal political economy. In a study on contemporary Argentina38(concerning clientelistic coercive relations and the flourishing of Peronism in Greater Buenos Aires), Javier Auyero writes about the expansion of corrupt electoral forms in a country (Argentina) and a city (Buenos Aires) which are extremely polarized and economically segregated. In the new regime of urban marginality, the peripheral aspects have their own characteristics, varying from the high rate of unemployment and its persistence during long spans of time, to job insecurity and the downfall of the welfare state and most social security39assistance. In Conurbano Bonaerense, a geographical area with a total population of 8,440,000 inhabitants (which is – in the last decade of the twentieth century – equivalent to 24.4% of the Argentinian population), the implementation of aggressive neoliberal economic policies has led to massive deindustrialization and unemployment rates. Between 1991 and 1995 there has been a rise of 277% in the number of unemployed people. The rate of unemployment reached 22.6% among the work force (over 843.840 people have been made redundant in the interval40). In these ‘enclaves of extreme povertyʼ41, clientelistic coercive electoral networks have bloomed. This is why in de-industrialized areas, the patron-client relation, and its middleman, the punteros, has been built as a minimal form of resistance confronting the unequal development brought about by neoliberal policies. As Javier Auyero states, the clientelistic Peronism, with its social-democratic suburban roots (barrios), is particularised as a network meant to ensure a minimal social balance – problem-solving networksThe rise in the number of people who receive social assistance is the direct consequence of neoliberal economic policies. The simple fact that there is a shortage of workplaces feeds into the state of the political dependency. This is, finally, a vicious circle: the clientelistic forms ensure a minimal social protection which, in return, maintains the status quo. It is only a real economic development which could free the citizens from the clientelistic predicament. Who has the necessary interest and acumen for such a reform to take place?


Table 1A. Electoral results at the 1996 parliamentary elections

1996 Chamber of Deputies CDR PDSR CDR/PDSR
National 30.17 21.52 1.40
Urban 35.68 15.57 2.35
Rural 22.72 29.57 0.77
Dobrudja 24.19 27.37 0.88
Moldavia 19.71 40.44 0.49
Muntenia 23.99 36.58 0.66
Oltenia 24.36 35.31 0.69
Transylvania & Banat* 25.59 15.13 1.69

*Without Covasna and Harghita counties

Table 2A. Electoral results at the 2000 parliamentary elections

2000 Chamber of Deputies CDR 2000 PDSR CDR 2000/PDSR
National 5.0 36.6 0.14
Urban 6.2 32.2 0.19
Rural 3.5 42.5 0.08
Dobrudja 2.9 40.3 0.07
Moldavia 2.9 55.6 0.05
Muntenia 3.2 50.7 0.06
Oltenia 3.2 52.5 0.06
Transylvania & Banat* 4.9 24.0 0.20

*Without Covasna and Harghita counties

Table 3A. Electoral results at the 2004 parliamentary elections

2004 Chamber of Deputies DA PSD-PUR DA/PSD-PUR
National 29.8 37.3 0.80
Urban 36.5 30.3 1.20
Rural 21.9 45.6 0.48
Dobrudja 22.7 44.1 0.51
Moldavia 20.9 54.6 0.38
Muntenia 24.2 51.6 0.47
Oltenia 19.8 49.9 0.40
Transylvania & Banat* 23.4 33.9 0.69

*Without Covasna and Harghita counties

Table 4A. Electoral results at the 2008 parliamentary elections

2008 Chamber of Deputies PDL PSD-PC PDL/PSD-PC
National 32.4 33.1 0.98
Urban 35.3 32.0 1.10
Rural 29.0 34.4 0.84
Dobrudja 25.9 41.6 0.62
Moldavia 29.3 38.8 0.76
Muntenia 29.9 36.7 0.81
Oltenia 27.6 46.6 0.59
Transylvania & Banat* 31.4 24.2 1.30

*Without Covasna and Harghita counties

Table 5A. Electoral results at the 2012 parliamentary elections

2012 Chamber of Deputies ARD USL ARD/USL
National 16.5 58.6 0.28
Urban 18.2 58.7 0.31
Rural 14.0 59.1 0.24
Dobrudja 10.9 60.9 0.18
Moldavia 13.0 64.8 0.20
Muntenia 14.0 67.0 0.21
Oltenia 11.7 64.3 0.18
Transylvania & Banat* 17.8 48.9 0.36

*Without Covasna and Harghita counties

Table 6A. Electoral results at the 2016 parliamentary elections

2016 Chamber of Deputies PNL PSD PNL/PSD
National 20.0 45.5 0.44
Urban 18.2 41.7 0.44
Rural 22.2 51.8 0.43
Dobrudja 23.1 52.3 0.44
Moldavia 22 57.8 0.38
Muntenia 21.3 59.9 0.36
Oltenia 18.2 64.7 0.28
Transylvania & Banat* 27.7 37.9 0.73

*Without Covasna and Harghita counties

Notes :

1The Democratic National Salvation Front (FDSN), the Social Democracy Party of Romania (PDSR) and the Social Democratic Party (PSD).

2Cornel Ban(2014). Dependență și dezvoltare: economia politică a capitalismului românesc [Dependency and Development. The Political Economy of Romanian Capitalism],translated into Romanian by Ciprian Șiulea, Cluj-Napoca: Tact, p. 122.


4See Mihail Chiru, Sergiu Gherghina(2011). Keeping the Doors Closed Leadership Selection in Post-Communist Romania, East European Politics and Societies: and Cultures, Vol. 26(3), pp. 510-537; Sergiu Gherghina, Mihail Chiru(2012). Taking the Short Route Political Parties, Funding Regulations, and State Resources in Romania, East European Politics and Societies: and Cultures, Vol. 27(1), pp. 108-128; Sergiu Gherghina, Laurențiu Stefan, MihailChiru(2013). Electoral reform – Cui bono? Attitudes of Romanian MPs to the electoral system change, Journal of Legislative Studies,Vol. 19(3), pp. 351-369.

5Florin Feșnic(2012). Atribute socioeconomice și demografice și impactul lor asupra simpatiei pentru candidații la alegerile prezidențiale din 2009 [Socio-economic & Demographic Aspects and their Impact at the 2009 Presidential Elections]. In Mircea Comșa, Andrei Gheorghiță, Claudiu D. Tufiș(Eds.). Alegerile prezidențiale din România, 2009 [The 2009 Romanian Presidential Elections], Cluj-Napoca: Presa Universitară Clujeană, pp. 201-215.

6Ibidem, p. 212.

7Barbu Mateescu(2016). PSD și cei mai săraci dintre români: relația electorală [PSD and the Poorest of the Romanians: Electoral Ties],Sociollogica.Availableat:http://sociollogica.blogspot.com/2016/10/psd-si-cei-mai-saraci-dintre-romani.html.

9Neil Smith(2008). Uneven development Nature, capital and the production of space, Athens: The University of Georgia Press, p. 9.

10Ibidem, p. 143.

11Ibidem, p. 4.

12Doreen Massey (1995). Spatial Divisions of Labour. Social Structures and the Geography of Production, London: Macmillan, p. 289.

13V. I. Lenin(1961). Dezvoltarea capitalismului în Rusia. Procesul formării pieței interne pentru marea industrie[The Development of Capitalism in Russia. The Process of the Formation of a Home Market for Large-Scale Industry]. București: Editura Politică.

14Andrew Herod(1997). From a Geography of Labor to a Labor Geography: Labor’s Spatial Fix and the Geography of Capitalism, Antipode, Vol. 29(1), pp. 1-31.

15Vezi N. Smith, op. cit. (p. 150) and Samir Amin(1976). Unequal development an essay on the social formations of peripheral capitalism, New York: Monthly Review Press.

16Samir Amin(1974). Accumulation and Development: A Theoretical Model, Review of African Political Economy,Vol. 1(1) (1974), pp. 9–26.

17Certainly, the discussion is much richer in content; for more complex information about the post-feudal Romanian capitalist economy, seeCornel Ban, op. cit. or Daniel Chirot(2002). Schimbarea socială într-o societate periferică. Formarea unei colonii balcanice [Social Change in a Peripheral Society: The Creation of a Balkan Colony],translated and afterword byVictor Rizescu, București: Corint.

18In 1930, 78.2% of the working inhabitants in Romania were peasant farmers, the percentage of industrial workers being a little over 7%(Enciclopedia României [The Romanian Encyclopaedia], Vol. I, p. 155).

19See Seymour Martin Lipset(1983). Political man. The Social Bases of Politics, London: Heinemann, p. 92.

20Peter Pulzer(1967). Political Representation and Elections in Britain, London: Allen and Unwin.

21Harold D. Clarke, David Sanders, Marianne C. Stewart, Paul F. Whiteley(2009). Performance Politics and the British Voter, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


23In 1996, before the CDR government, state companies included 84% of the whole work force, the entire electronic, heavy and chemical industry belonging to the state – see Cornel Ban, op. cit., p. 139.

24I will not get into details here. Concerning the shock therapy in the period 1996-2000, see chapter Revoluția neoliberală vine în România [The Neoliberal Revolution Comes to Romania], in Cornel Ban, op. cit., pp. 157-198.

25E. D. Tesliuc, I. Pop, C. M. Tesliu(2000). Romania: social protection and the poor, The World Bank, quotedin Cornel Ban, op. cit., p. 162.

26Cornel Ban, op. cit., p. 162.

27John Allen, Doreen Massey and Allan Cochrane (with Julie Charlesworth, Gill Court, Nick Henry and Phil Sarre) – 2002. Rethinking the Region, London and New York: Routledge, p. 2.

28We define neoliberalism as that system that highlights the ‘virtuesʼ of capitalism, free competition and consumption. It is an ideology which is strongly in favor of an excessive pro-market society, based essentially on selling and buying in order to consume. For more details concerning the concept, see MichaelFreeden(2005). Liberal Languages: Ideological Imaginations and Twenty-Century Progressive Thought, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

29Perry Anderson (2000). Renewals, New Left Review, 2(1), p. 17.

30These measures were supposed, according to the liberal-democratic party in power at the time, to be implemented due to the fact that two major crises had then overlapped: i) an internal crisis, related to the structural deficit in Romania – the country consumed less than it produced and ii) an external crisis, i.e. the Great Recession.

31The same thing happened in Ireland. In the parliamentary elections in February 2011, the incumbent party, Fianna Fáil (FF), the predominant party in power since the middle of the 1930s, had won only 12% of the total votes, allowing a right-wing party, Fine Gael, to then implement an even more neoliberal set of policies. See Brendan K. O’Rourke, John Hogan(2014). Guaranteeing failure: neoliberal discourse in the Irish economic crisis, Journal of Political Ideologies, 9(1), pp. 41-59.

32Constantin Sterewrote, at the beginning of the twentieth century, about ‘vagabond capitalism’ and its migration for later expansion – see Manuela Boatcă(2005). Peripheral Solutions to Peripheral Development: The Case of Early 20th Century Romania, Journal of World-System Research, 11(1), pp. 3-26. See also Cindi Katz(2001). Vagabond capitalism and the Necessity of Social Reproduction, Antipode, 33(4), pp. 709-728.

33Doreen Massey, op. cit., pp. 1-11.

34Ionuț Ciobanu(2013). Competitivitatea sistemului de partide la nivel local, 1996-2012: de la echilibru la monopol politic [Parties’ Competitiveness at the local Level: from Equilibrium to Monopoly]. In Adrian Miroiu, Șerban Cerkez(Eds.). Competiția politică în România [The Political Competition in Romania], Iași: Polirom.

35Clara Volintiru(2012). Clientelism: electoral forms and functions in the Romanian case study, Romanian Journal of Political Science, 12(1), pp. 35–66.

36Clara Volintiru(2013). How Public Spending is Fuelling Strategies in Romania,Südosteuropa, 61(2), pp. 268-289; Sergiu Gherghina, Clara Volintiru(2015). A new model of clientelism: political parties, public resources, and private contributors, European Political Science Review, 9(1), pp. 115-137.

37Barbu Mateescu, op. cit.

38Javier Auyero(2001). Poor People’s Politics. Peronist Survival Networks and the Legacy of Evita, Durham & London: Duke University Press.

39Ibidem, p. 29.

40Ibidem, p. 31.

41Loïc Wacquant(1995). The Comparative Structure and Experience of Urban Exclusion: ‘Raceʼ, Class and Space in Chicago and Paris. In Katherine McFate, Roger Lawson, William Julius Wilson (Eds.). Poverty, Inequality, and the Future of Social Policy, New York: Russell Sage, pp. 543-570.