Aici. Acum. Împreună.
January 28, 2016
To the Venice Commission - Council of Europe

Request for Opinion
Submitted by Inițiativa România

1. General presentation of the topic
Our submission deals with Romania’s electoral law and the choice between using a oneround and a two-round (run-off) voting system for the election of mayors. Most European states
use a two-round (run-off) voting system for electing mayors, a system that had been long used
in the Romania as well. Under such a system, if no candidate receives a majority of votes after
the first round, then the top two candidates face each other in a run-off election held in the
weeks following the first round.
In May 2015, the Romanian Parliament passed Law 115/2015, which effectively
introduced a one-round voting system. The law states in Article 101 that “the person who
gathered the largest number of votes that had been expressed in a valid manner is declared
elected mayor”. The law further stipulates in Article 99 that the elections are considered valid
“irrespective of the number of voters who participated in the election”. This provision not only
overturns a practice, which has been part of the brief Romanian democratic tradition, but, most
importantly, it directly and negatively affects the connection between mayor and citizens.
The essence of the two-round (run-off) voting system is to ensure that the winning
candidate has the support of an absolute majority of the voters. This further has the advantage
of forcing candidates to appeal to a broad range of voters and secure their support by directly
addressing their needs. Such a system undoubtedly ensures broader representativeness and
subsequently prevents candidates who represent just a niche of the electorate from winning
elections. At the same time, it promotes voting participation and encourages voters to have a
wider issues analysis if their candidate does not make it to the second round. This is especially
relevant nowadays, when the confidence link between voters and elected officials is almost
broken due to widespread corruption and a general fatigue with politics and the establishment
politicians. In such a context, a two-round voting system attempts to ensure a minimum level
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Aici. Acum. Împreună.
of legitimacy necessary in a democracy. Last but not least, the use of a two-round voting system
also enables those citizens who initially supported a losing candidate to decide over the winner
of the elections, thus ensuring that they are not left unrepresented. By contrast, a one-round
voting system disempowers voters and can lead to voting apathy.
Among all Romanian democratic processes, the election of mayors is one of the most
important ones. It is definitely one of the most important decisions made by Romanian citizens,
given the direct and immediate effect decisions made by local administration have on people’s
daily life. The legitimacy of mayors comes from the direct connection between local
administration and their respective communities. This implicitly requires a system of electing
mayors that ensures this direct transfer of legitimacy and responsibility from the electorate to
the elected official, and that maintains the close link between the community and those elected
to run it. There is little doubt from this point of view regarding the advantages held by a tworound (run-off) voting system over a one-round voting system.
The arguments against this system generally boil down to questions of cost and the
weariness of voters involved in too many rounds of elections. It is important to note that
according to most simulations concerning the up-coming Romanian local elections, if the oneround electoral system is maintained almost all mayors will be elected with percentages below
50% of votes cast, in many cases these percentages being significantly lower.

2. Positions of relevant stakeholders and present situation
The topic under discussion is highly debated in Romania. Most political actors have
expressed their opinions on this matter, including the Government, the various political parties,
the President of the Constitutional Court, the President of Romania and the majority of civil
society actors.
It is worth mentioning that, at present time, there is not one stakeholder which denies the
superiority of the two-round voting system over the current one round-voting system, the only
issue being if such a modification is constitutional and democratic.
As we shall show further on, the argument used by the artisans of Law 115/2015 not to
move back to a two-round system is a purely procedural one, based on what we consider to be
a faulty interpretation of the recommendation of the Venice Commission. The respective
politicians argue that “the electoral laws cannot be changed one year ahead of the elections.”
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In a nutshell, if we wanted to return to a more representative and democracy conducive system
of electing our mayors, we would be limited by the recommendations of the Venice
Commission. We consider that such an argument is faulty.
Indeed, the Code of Good Practices elaborated by the Venice Commission asserts that
“the fundamental elements of the electoral law, especially the electoral system proper,
the selection of the members of the electoral commissions and the drawing of the
constituencies should not be changed less than one year before the elections or should
be included in the Constitution or in a law higher to the ordinary law.”
Actually, the Venice Commission, anticipating that the above-quoted text will find different
interpretations firmly asserts the following in addition:
“The principle according to which the fundamental elements of the electoral system
should not be changed less than one year before the elections does not have priority
over the other principles of the Code of good practice in electoral matters. This
principle should not be invoked to maintain a contrary situation to the European
standards in the field or to prevent the implementation of a recommendation of the
international bodies.”
In short, in our opinion, the Venice Commission’s recommendation should not be
interpreted restrictively. We think that the recommendation not to change electoral rules is not
absolute, but refers to those cases when the changes restrict or limit in any way the citizens’
right to vote. Inițiativa România considers, as aforementioned, that the election of mayors in a
single round of voting imposes such a limitation on the citizens’ will directly expressed through
the ballot. In contrast, the election in two rounds of voting allows for a clear and representative
expression of the will of the community.
The positive change proposed by Inițiativa România, while slightly affecting the stability
of electoral norms, responds much better to current electoral needs, ensuring the legitimacy
and representativeness of the leaders of the communities.
Recently, most political actors, including the President of Romania, and several political
parties publicly have declared their support for such a return to two-round voting for mayors.
However, no further actions were taken, as the debate still goes on around the “one year”
recommendation of the Venice Commission. The key issue under discussion is if a
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Aici. Acum. Împreună.
modification of electoral laws which leads to increase participation and representativeness for
the elected officials can be promoted during an electoral year, with less than a year before the
elections proper. In this context, a clarification from the Venice Commission will certainly
bring more clarity to this debate.
It is our opinion that implementing a voting system that allows a greater voting participation
and a larger degree of representation with less than a year before the said elections is not a
breach of the democratic principles stated by the Venice Commission. The election of mayors
in two rounds of voting is in the spirit of the Romanian Constitution and is in line with keeping
with the fundamental democratic principles of the European Union.
3. Summary of the question
Is changing the voting system for mayor’s elections by reverting to two rounds of voting
in case of no majority (and as such, increasing voters participation and elected officials’
representativeness), with less than a year before the elections, a breach of the democratic
principles which the Venice Commission promotes?

Inițiativa România

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