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The Tragedy Of Marosvásárhely: How Ethnic Hungarians Are Losing Ground In Romanian Politics As Disinterest Spreads

Yet again, we have one illusion less: Szekler Land’s largest Hungarian city will continue to have a Romanian mayor after sixteen years of majority leadership. Incumbent mayor Dorin Florea, who ran as an independent this year, won his fifth mandate with 42.95 per cent of the vote. He gained the support of 27 262 voters, as opposed to the 25 557 (40.24 per cent) ballots collected by independent Hungarian candidate Zoltán Soós, who enjoyed the support of all three ethnic Hungarian candidates. There would have been plenty of reserves in the voter base, as the 2011 referendum suggests that 57 000 Hungarians live in Marosvásárhely, or Târgu Mureş as it is called in Romanian. Some of them, of course, are children who are unqualified to cast their vote, but the present 25 000 votes definitely seems a painfully low level of turnout, even if this is a tendency typical of the whole of Romania – only 48 per cent of those eligible found it important to voice their opinion on Sunday.

D_MTI20160605034An elderly voter casts his vote at local government elections in Marosvásárhely, Transylvania on 5 June 2016 (photo: Gergely L. Boda/MTI)

It is also worth taking a look at how votes cast for Hungarian candidates fared over the past years. In 2000, when when Florea won for the first time, previous mayor Imre Fodor was a meagre 170 votes short of winning an absolute  majority in the first round. He gained close to 39 000 valid votes even though electoral committees invalidated close to 3000 votes, mostly cast for the Hungarian candidate, because the voting stamp’s mark stuck out of the frame.

1386247005_6758Incumbent  mayor Dorin Florea has been re-elected for a fifth time despite being the subject of two separate anti-corruption investigations (photo: erdely.ma)

By 2004, the candidate received a narrow 40 per cent (Florea claimed victory with 56.5%), Attila Kelemen won the support of 34 652 voters. Four years later, László Borbély was similarly beaten (44.87 per cent, 34 374 votes) before György Frunda’s brutal, 37.26 per cent defeat (28 842 votes). While it is true that there was another Hungarian candidate that year, he claimed less than 1300 votes, meaning that the reason of the poor showing was not dividedness but Hungarians failing to show up at polling stations.

The continuous decline in the number of votes vast for Hungarian candidates is visible. This can be explained by the fact that Hungarians – especially young people – have left the city, but Romanian youth are leaving too. Having spent Sunday in Marosvásárhely and visited several polling stations, it was a miserable sight that generally only older poeple turned out to vote. For the first time this year, turnout at municipal elections could be followed online (ID cards were digitally scanned to avoid double voting), and the database provides clear evindence that in Maros county, 150 000 people above the age of 45 voted, as opposed to less than 16 000 in the 18-24 age bracket and 80 000 people aged between 25 and 44.

soosEthnic Hungarian candidate Zoltán Soós, who ran as an independent with support from all three parties representing the Hungarian minority, lost the election with a narrow margin (photo: maszol.ro)

The problem with Mr. Florea, a doctor by profession, is not that he is Romanian but that he is not a good mayor. It was not by coincidence that he ran as an idependent; according to his party’s regulations, the National Liberals do not allow to be represented by a politician under criminal investigation, two of which are under way against him. Last December, he was taken to court over using public funds to illegally finance the local football team (with close to 500 million forints), while proceedings were launched against him this April for corruption and money laundering. If he is convicted by final jiudgement, he will be forced to resign from his office and new elections will be called: On a separate note, Sunday’s elections also hed other surprises in Romania: in Nagybánya (Baia Mare) a mayor allowed out of pre-trail detention for three days to vote won a 70 per cent, landslide victory.

Coming back to Dorin Florea, the greatest problem with him is that in his mighty nationalistic upheaval, the most important for him as mayor was to not improve the situation of Hungarians. The fact that in the meanwhile, life didn’t improve much for Romanians either was accepted by his voters as a kind of “collateral damage”. This was how a city intended for so much more sunk back into mediocrity. In the meanwhile, surrounding cities – Nagyszeben (Sibiu), Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca), but even Brassó (Braşov) rocketed and evolved into communities with a vibrant atmosphere. For two decades now, Marosvásárhely has been hostage to ethnic voting. Voters think in terms of Romanian or Hungarian and not whether the person in questiomn is suitable for the post. From this point of view, the appearance of the Free People’s Party was highly interesting. The local group, which has its roots in civil society, was led by successful IT entrepreneur Dan Maşca, who also ran for the position of mayor. Those with thorough knowledge of the man believe that it is genuinely only professional competence that  matters for him; in his company, he employs people regardless of ethnic criteria and has given his Hungarian employees a paid day off on 15 March for several years. Mr. Maşca won nine per cent of the vote, largely with support from young voters, and three of their candidates made in into the municipal assembly on the party list. One of the entrants is Romanian and two Hungarian, including a disabled woman, which is unprecedented in local politics.

Translated from journalist Csaba Lukács’s article on MNO.hu, 10 June 2016