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Romania's left return to power to dent populist momentum in Europe

DANIEL MIHAILESCU | AFP | Getty Images

Elections in the European Union's (EU) second poorest country produced a comprehensive victory for Romania's social democrat (PSD) party on Sunday yet the defining characteristics are apathy, disillusionment and political illegitimacy, a senior analyst told CNBC.


PSD, Romania's prominent left party, claimed around 45 percent of the vote, with their nearest challengers, the Centre-right National Liberal Party (PNL), significantly behind on 20 percent of the vote.

"(Low voter turnout) means the defining characteristic of Romania's democracy is apathy among the electorate, disillusionment, and the failure of any party to have democratic legitimacy," Michael Taylor, a senior analyst for Eastern Europe at think tank Oxford Analytica, told CNBC by email on Monday.

Voter turnout of less than 40 percent, for the third consecutive general election, appears to have supported the PSD's efforts to return to parliament. The party is now expected to form a majority government with long-time allies ALDE, who had achieved around 6 percent of the vote.

Catalyst for voter discontent

"Today, citizens voted for economic growth, for jobs, for more money into the pockets of Romanians," PSD leader Liviu Dragnea said in a statement.

Romania, a country with a similar population to New York State, witnessed an electoral campaign which had been hard-fought on anti-corruption policies yet, ironically, one of the most likely candidates looking to takeover is facing corruption charges.

PSD's Dragnea, who denies any wrongdoing, is currently serving a suspended sentence for electoral fraud which means he is legally unable to take a position in office.

In spite of the charges brought against Dragnea, PSD have returned to power a little over 12 months after their last party chief, Victor Ponta, resigned on the back of a deadly nightclub fire which became the catalyst for voter discontent in his leadership.

Taylor argued that many Romanian citizens voted with their feet by emigrating and given they are likely to be the better educated, it is a big loss for one of the poorest nations in Europe.

"The PSD has no incentive to reform Romania because it benefits from the way things are now. The only thing that can stop them is the EU, and its resources in dealing with recalcitrant member states are few, as we see from Hungary and Poland," he added.

Europe's mainstream political parties had breathed a huge sigh of relief in early December as far-right nationalist, Norbet Hofer, narrowly missed out on becoming the president of Austria and upcoming elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands in 2017 begin to come into focus amidst growing support for populist parties.