The citizens of Cluj-Napoca, Romania, were called today to vote in local partial elections, after the former mayor, elected in June 2008, went on to become prime-minister following the general elections at the end of last November. The polls have been closed about 2 hours ago and the final turnout is disappointing, but expected: 29.94%.
On 25 November 2007, when the first European elections were held in Romania, the turn out in Cluj-Napoca was just over 28%. In the local elections in June 2008, about 37% voted. What do these numbers tell us about the forthcoming Euro-elections taking place less than 4 months from now?
Cluj-Napoca is an interesting place. It’s in the heart of Transylvania, a region disputed by Romanians and Hungarians throughout history. Hungarians held the majority of the populations until the late 1960’s, but now they constitute just over 20% of the total number of citizens. Ethnicity is no longer an issue, especially after the former extremist mayor Gheorghe Funar was ousted from power in 2004, after 12 years in which Cluj-Napoca was torned by artificial ethnic tensions and economic stagnation. In 2004, Emil Boc won the elections and the city regained ground and became a reference point for Romania, following an economic boom, based on massive foreign investments and strong local universities.
There is a very strong sense of local patriotism in Cluj-Napoca, as it is in the entire Transylvania. Bluntly put, people are very proud of themselves and their historic background, considered to be more Western influenced than the rest of Romania. Cluj-Napoca is also a very important political center and this status was confirmed by the appointment of Emil Boc as prime-minister of Romania last December, which left the city without a mayor and lead to the elections taking place this Sunday.
It is widely thought that local elections are the most important for a community, because local administrations are the closest decision-makers to a citizen. In opposition, European elections would be the least important, because voters choose their representatives in a supra-national body, located far away in Brussels or Strasbourg, which passes regulations with limited impact (this is debatable, but I think you agree this is the general opinion).
The low turnout might have many explanations, once you look into the general context in which these elections took place. However, the numbers remain and they are not good news, with just 4 months ahead of the Euro-elections.