Romania’s elections: Hungarian party beats expectations, while Social Democrats score major victory

Romania’s Social Democratic Party (Partidul Social Democrat, PSD) won in a landslide in Sunday’s legislative elections, garnering 45.44% of the vote–far ahead of the National Liberal Party (Partidul Național Liberal, PNL) at just 20%. The Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség – RMDSZ) came in at fourth place with 6.25% of the vote, sending 16 representatives to the Chamber of Deputies and three to the Senate. This is the party’s best result since 2000 and  is due in no small part to more effective mobilization of ethnic Hungarians in key counties of Transylvania and the fact that Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party supported RMDSZ, while in the past two elections Prime Minister Viktor Orbán supported smaller, fledgling right-wing Hungarian ethnic parties and candidates in Transylvania instead. Despite Fidesz’s best efforts, the moderate, centrist and pro-European RMDSZ survived. So Mr. Orbán cut his losses, stopped supporting the smaller right-wing parties, and advocated instead for a united Hungarian front under RMDSZ. The ethnic Hungarian party won four counties in Romania, all of them in the Transylvania region, while the PNL won three counties and the victorious PSD scooped up everything else.


Red represents counties where PSD won, while green represents counties won by RMDSZ. The blue stands for counties where the PNL won most of the vote.

Unlike in previous elections, turn-out among Romania’s ethnic Hungarians (6.1% of the country’s population) exceeded the national average. Nationally, participation stood at 39.5%, while participation among Hungarians was estimated at being 40.1% Two counties in Romania have Hungarian majorities, namely Hargita (Harghita) and Kovászna (Covasna). RMDSZ won handily in both, taking 85% of the vote in Hargita and 74% in Kovászna. RMDSZ also won Maros (Mureș) county, garnering 39% of the vote. The ethnic Hungarian party also came out on top in Szatmár (Satu Mare) winning 40% of the vote.  In contrast, RMDSZ performed weakly in Transylvania’s historic heartland of Kolozs (Cluj) county, which is home to the region’s de facto capital city, Kolozsvár, garnering just 15% of the vote.

RMDSZ’s campaign was quite different from previous years. For one, it seems that the concept of autonomy for Hungarian majority Szeklerland (Székelyföld)–which includes the counties of Hargita, Kovászna and parts of Maros–is on the back burner. It did not feature prominently in the campaign at all. Instead, RMDSZ’s messaging focused on appealing to both Hungarians and Romanians in Transylvania, and their desire for a less centralized system, with regional funds staying in relatively affluent areas of northwestern Romania, rather than being sent to Bucharest. The RMDSZ set up a very clear dichotomy in their campaign–including on Romanian-language billboards. The most dramatic of these was one that read: Save Oradea from Bucharest–referring to the town of Nagyvárad (Oradea) in the country’s northwest.

RMDSZ billboard in Nagyvárad (Oradea).

RMDSZ billboard in Nagyvárad (Oradea).

RMDSZ also launched provocative billboards aimed at Hungarian-speakers, particularly in Kolozsvár. One such billboard referred to the desire to have local authorities use not only the Romanian name for Cluj, Transyvania’s de facto capital city, but also the historic Hungarian and German names: Kolozsvár and Klausenburg. In order to allow for the multilingual use of a town’s name, the given minority population must reach at least 20% of the local population. The proportion of Hungarians in Kolozsvár has dipped below 20%, so RMDSZ proposes lowering this threshold to 10%.

A Hungarian-language RMDSZ billboard in Kolozsvár.

A Hungarian-language RMDSZ billboard in Kolozsvár.

It is clear that RMDSZ is trying to unite Hungarians and Romanians by creating a dichotomy between Transylvania and Bucharest, with their slogan: “Transylvania–the future.” Autonomy for Szeklerland is viewed as unattainable. But a more decentralized Romania, where a multi-ethnic and multilingual Transylvania, with its 1.2 million Hungarians, has more freedom to follow its own political, cultural and social path of development, may be more attainable. This is particularly the case if RMDSZ is able to appeal to Romanians in Transylvania who are unhappy with their taxes being transferred to Bucharest in order to fund “have-not” regions in the south.

There was an event during the campaign that also mobilized ethnic Hungarian voters. In the town of Marosvásárhely (Târgu Mureș), where nearly 50% of the population is Hungarian, a Roman Catholic secondary school serving Hungarian children was effectively paralyzed, with teachers not receiving their salaries and with no principal appointed, when Romanian authorities launched a financial investigation into the school’s management and into its establishment. Teachers at the school, which numbers 405 students, emphasized that there were no irregularities surrounding the school’s founding. Some Hungarians felt that there was a double standard used, to the detriment of minority institutions, and that the goal of the investigation was to hinder the work of this Hungarian institution.

Hunor Kelemen, President of the RMDSZ, can be pleased with his party’s results. Romania’s president, Klaus Iohannis, however has the possibly tricky task of appointing the new prime minister. This should not be a difficult choice, considering the massive PSD victory. Unfortunately, however, PSD candidate for prime minister, Liviu Dragnea, received a two year suspended prison sentence this past spring for attempting to rig a 2012 national referendum. Mr. Dragnea believes that the sentence was “profoundly unjust.” Dacian Cioloș, the current and outgoing prime minister, is an independent and led a technocratic government.

Despite the large PSD win, the Social Democrats will likely govern in coalition with a junior party.

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