Comment: Romania's local election campaign, full speed ahead, but not all wheels in motion
For the first time in the last 12 years, or since I started to vote, I can actually cast my vote in the local elections in Bucharest. In Romania, this means I've finally added the Bucharest residence on my ID card.
As I was never able to vote for the local elections in Bucharest and didn't know much about what was happening in my home village in Vrancea county, I've never voted for a mayor. Hence, I was never very interested in the political campaign for the local elections – well, only as much as my job required.
This year, I told myself, it will be different. So I promised myself I would research the candidates and form an opinion about to whom I should give my vote. The first choice was to check the full list of candidates, see how many people I had to research. I already knew some of the candidates from the bigger parties, but I wanted the wider picture. Guess what? The Central Elections Bureau (BEC) has not yet published the list of candidates. There are a couple of websites that present candidates, but the information is incomplete and not up to date. So nothing very reliable. The Ministry of Interior's website - the ministry which is in charge of organizing the elections - was not of much help either- nothing about the upcoming elections.
Plan B, then, I started checking the websites of the few candidates I already knew. Now, before I go into further detail, I should say that the whole purpose of this text is not to advertise for one candidate or the other, nor expose my choices. I am not politically affiliated and, as a journalist, I stay away from keeping sides in the political game, but as a citizen, I will have to make some choices.
So, with the elections campaign having started on May 11 and due to end before the June 10 elections day, it could be said that there's plenty of time for the candidates to communicate. I won't pretend I'm an expert in communication, I may know a thing or two, but I am surely a person these people should target, because I have a vote to give. Here's how they did it.
The independent candidate Nicusor Dan created some stir in the social media and online, and I've seen many of my friends and in general people I know sharing his messages. The mathematician who wants to be the Mayor of Bucharest has gained sympathy from the younger generation. He is the president of the Salvati Bucurestiul association (Save Bucharest). He joined the Let's do it Romania cleaning campaign last week-end and I also remember a concert that was thrown in support of his candidacy a while ago. The Romanian magazine Decat o Revista – DoR also wrote about him, and other media outlets that the young generation identifies as cool picked up the story. So this seems to be his target. His website is clean and organized, clearly states his goals on major topics, so well done on that side. The only minus I could find was the way he communicates on camera - he does not seem to convey much passion for Bucharest or much of the strength needed to succeed as a mayor and to fulfill the promises made in the campaign, especially when there's no political party backing him and he will have to face a cohort of Municipal Councillors from different parties. It might be simply a matter of training to hold speeches.
Then I went to the incumbent mayor's website: Sorin Oprescu. Oprescu is independent, but backed by the Social Liberal Union – meaning the National Liberal and the Social Democratic Parties. Not too surprisingly, his website is filled with the projects that were inaugurated in Bucharest during Oprescu's mandate. But much to my surprise, I was unable to find his 'promises' for the future. I wanted to make a comparison. Perhaps I should have searched a bit more - but then again, shouldn't the candidates' aims be much more visible? My conclusion was that the mayor is relying more on what he has done so far than on what he intends to do if re-elected.
The third candidate I checked was Silviu Prigoana, who represents the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL), now an opposition party. I noticed his name long before the election campaign started, as his communication campaign has a certain twist to it. A week or so before the campaign officially started, I noticed some banners around Bucharest that exploited some areas of Prigoana – the character. Firstly, his name in Romanian means 'oppression' so probably the agency that worked on his campaign used this to their advantage. The banners read something along the line 'Beware, oppression is coming!' using his name as a common noun (no capital letter), so technically, the message could not be considered political campaign. Strike one. The sign on the banner was a flyswatter, an item that has somehow entered the folklore about Silviu Prigoana. There were comedians who cartooned him based on this item. Another twist in his campaign was the introduction of a new visual identity, which links him to his line of business. Prigoana owns the cleaning and garbage company Rosal. His campaign's visual identity now centers on a cleaning spray whose wrap reads Solution for Bucharest. Strike two.
I wanted to check two more candidates about whom the Romanian media has written, even though more in mockery. Businessman Irinel Columbeanu, who has made plenty of headlines in the tabloid media for his marriage with the much younger and taller Monica Columbeanu, also signed up for the mayoral race and tried to use a word play in his campaign too. His election campaign sign, when launched a while ago, was the ambulance – in Romanian 'Salvarea', which also means salvation. His message was 'Salvation/Ambulance for Bucharest', but in the end he was refused this election sign. Columbeanu doesn't seem to have an official website – or I could not find one. So, even though I wanted as much input as possible, I could not find his election platform.
The same happened with another candidate, Gigi Becali, businessman, politician and Member of the European Parliament. He might have a website, but if he does, it's not in the first pages of a Google search by his already famous name.
The Internet search over, I will have to turn on the TV this month to see who talks the talk.
By Corina Saceanu