[Link and postscript fixed.]
Social Democrats claim to be in a position to supplant the current Liberal-led coalition after today’s legislative election in Romania , AFP reports:
Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu pleaded with stay-away voters in the hours before polling stations closed, but the 39 percent turnout was the lowest since the fall of communism in 1989.
Exit polls by the Insomar and CCSB institutes gave the Social Democrats 36 percent of the votes that were cast, ahead of the right-wing Liberal Democrats with 30.5 percent, and Tariceanu’s ruling Liberals with just over 20 percent. [...]
The first general elections since Romania joined the EU in 2007, and the sixth since the end of communism, saw the far-right Greater Romania Party, the country’s second political force in 2000, unable to get into parliament for the first time.
But the junior partner in the Liberal-led government, the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), was likely to figure in coalition talks with about seven percent support, according to CCSB.
To this institutionalist, this election is noteworthy not simply because it is the first since Romania joined the EU, but because it is the first nonconcurrent legislative election in Romania as well as the first under a reformed electoral system.
Romania has a premier-presidential system (the variant of semi-presidentialism in which the president has the most limited powers over government formation and legislation). If the opposition were able to form a majority, Romania would experience cohabitation
for the first time (see below). Until recent constitutional changes, cohabitation was unlikely (to result from elections), because the assembly was elected at the same time as the first round of the presidential elections.
However, initiative in the naming of a prime minister after a parliamentary election remains with the president, and so the continuation of a coalition led by the president’s rightist allies remains likely. (In 2004, cohabitation was averted only by a flip of one party from one pre-electoral alliance to the other, once the presidential runoff result was known; see previous discussion.) Presidential elections are not due for a year, as the term is now five years (while the terms for both houses of parliament remain at four). Of course, if Romania does not get cohabitation now, it could yet get it a year from now, if President Traian Basescu loses his expected reelection bid.
As for the new electoral system, it seems still to be PR, but with some sort of local component. Maybe. See discussion in a previous comment thread.
For more detail, see Manuel Alvarez-Rivera.
P.S. Press accountability: The linked AFP item is wrong when it says:
For the first time, senators and deputies were elected in a single round of voting, using a combination of party and candidate lists.
While there is evidently a change in the ballot format, a single round is nothing new. In past elections, only the presidency has been elected in two rounds.
Late correction: Actually, the outgoing government was a cohabitation situation, though not one that had resulted directly from elections. The government formed after the 2004 parliamentary and presidential elections was a coalition that included the president’s party. But in 2007, the PM (from a then-allied party) fired the ministers from the president’s party, reshuffled the cabinet among the remaining parties, and won the confidence of parliament. Thereby a cohabitation cabinet was created, and, this being a premier-presidential system, the president lacked the constitutional power to do anything about it!