As Romania prepares for presidential elections on Sunday, November 22, several mayors belonging to the Social Democratic (PSD), Democratic Liberal (PDL) and National Liberal (PNL) parties, who have been contacted undercover by HotNews.ro, under the claim of a party-level checks, have explained how they will they get voters moving in favour of their parties' candidates on election day. The investigation announces massive electoral tourism and votes bought with food or money.
Most of the mayors say they'd have voters mobilized by personal cars so that they not draw too much attention and demand money and resources from the party to bring as many voters to polling stations as they can.
Four PSD mayors, three from PDL and three from PNL who were contacted undercover explained in detail how they would proceed.
- PSD mayor: Had there been some sort of December 1 [Romanian National Day] help. Or sent some meat. Half a pig. Or minced meat. It would be very good because we make cabbage-rolled meat. It matters if you give them something"
- PSD mayor: "We have prepared 20 cars, let's see how we receive the gas. We did an evaluation and I hope to get some 1,300 people moving"
- PDL mayor: "Put something in every councillor's pocket. That is, people come to vote but... There's a reason for the vote. So we think of 50-60 per vote"
- PDL mayor: "We provided stimuli. Gave them flour. That's all we had. We are a poor organisation. We have no factories. We have a slaughterhouse and he's a tight Italian who did not contribute with anything. What else should I give them?"
- PNL mayor: "I spoke with a councillor who would drive his personal car to fetch the people"
Considering the major public interest regarding the correctness of the electoral process on November 22, HotNews.ro applied the only method to obtain relevant information on the real ways parties use to prepare for the elections: an investigative reporter claimed he was a rapporteur for the party and demanded information on the organisation of the voting process.
Contacted mayors reported by themselves the measures considered for the vote. Mayors in town halls in villages and small towns across Romania were phone called as the stake of these elections stands in how people across the country are moving, so local elected officials are the key players who are also expected to provide more sincere answers as they feature less frequently in the media and are less suspicious.
Each mayor was contacted with a standard text:
- "I am Marian Ionescu, a rapporteur for the central organisation of the party. I called for a check of the way local branches prepared for the Sunday vote. 1. Please tell me the first three measures you applied so that our candidate wins on Sunday? How did you manage the transport issue for the Sunday vote?"
How PSD mayors prepare
Mayor from Sibiu county: he's first suspicious, but after seconds of chat he becomes friendly and explains how he prepared: "Every councillor has his car. Their tanks full. The town hall car is at our disposal.(...) All PSD councillor are on standby. There are two cars they work with and we have a list with the elderly who are ours, for whom we have medical certificates. (...) Everything is prepared. (...) You know, the materials that arrived later were rather few. We thought we should not spread them now and wait for the second round, maybe there'll be more. 200 are few. You know everybody gives things away now. Some 700 more would be needed. [The HotNews.ro reporter did not demand explanations to avoid suspicion]. We only gave away to people we trust, but these 700 would be needed for the second round. We did all that can be done, even parties. Now it's lent, but we had one last week, on Friday night (...). And tomorrow we have a party with influencing factors".
"December 1 is coming. It's a day we celebrate. Then you should help us. We throw a dinner with all citizens. A band will be coming. Or send us a sum of money for me to buy meat and all that - we have the drink.(...) Had there been some sort of December 1 help. Or send some meat. Half a pig. Or minced meat. It would be very good because we make cabbage-rolled meat. It matters if you give them something".
"We have some dogs after us, because there are some who left our ranks. We cannot move anything on Sunday. They're watching us. But they knew for sure they gave money. They've taken them on trips, to Sambata, took them to restaurants. It's not a problem as we did that, too. The problem is they might give away more. They have stuff because Romgaz, Transgaz are here and you know their influence".
Mayor from Bacau county: "We have three-four coordinators who have a sector of the town. We have some 150 people to get moving. We have private cars, it's better that way. Each councillor have some to cover (...). It's better this way, not to be too visible." He explains he himself provides the gasoline money. "You know, it wouldn't be bad to receive... I cover all from my own pocket. I'm used to it already. But costs are high""
Mayor from Vaslui county: Says he has 20 cars ready to put voters on the move and a target of 60% he hopes to reach. "Let's see how we receive the gasoline. I did an evaluation and I hope to move some 1,300 people.(...) I was just doing a calculus how many have come to vote and how many I must carry to get over 60%".
Mayor in Iasi county: Tells how his main worry is to watch on his adversaries. "We watch mainly the special section (...) After 3 p.m. we'll see how things are and act. I want to win so that if we succeed I know what door to knock on".
More suspicious, two Dambovita county mayors refused to discuss with the "party rapporteur". Each said he would not provide sensitive detail by phone.
How PDL mayors prepare
Mayor from Iasi county: "Each party councillor stays in his area and keeps contact with voters and takes care they get to the polling station. Another measure: establishing a number of five cars to cover transport. I as a mayor will coordinate and will stay at voting sections. I hope to move some five-six hundreds to give us a score of 40-50%"
"(...) I provided something for every councillor's pocket. I put something in every councillor's pocket. That is, people come to vote but... There's a reason for the vote. So we think of 50-60 per vote. (...)"
Mayor from Arad county: "I discussed with everybody in all three villages here all week. Each of the six councillors gets involved. I have a single car to carry some. And we have the medical requests. Each councillor gets involved and has to solve a number of votes. I said some 50. That is six times 50, meaning 300. The rest comes on my shoulders (...)".
Mayor from Satu Mare: "I did what I was told. I spoke with people to vote for our man. I organised party people, everybody brings his relatives in. But I didn't find the people to help us with transport. It's not very well this way. (...) I thought it's better to put the best people in voting sections and as section presidents. (...) I provided stimuli. I gave them flour. It's all I had. Other stimuli I didn't have. We are a poor organisation. We have no factories. We have a slaughterhouse but he's a tight Italian who did not contribute anything."
How PNL mayors prepare
Mayor from Suceava county: "For Sunday we prepare sheep pastrami, a chocolate for each and we take them to voting sections because it's a long day. People will also get an energizer. My men shared things in several areas of the village. Each councillor has an area. (...) We have cars, but here they use carts as well [After some scepticism on talking about incentives] It's the same as in local elections. The same campaign. So it's alright for Sunday, too (...)."
"I have the biggest pub in the village. It has 300 sqm, it also has a club. Sunday is open. The press may come, too (...) I'm a mayor, I have people in all the media, friends. I have protection behind them, should I do stupid things. I'm well organised".
Mayor from Brasov county: "I solved it with transportation, we have some six cars available. We did not set a target yet. I think, however, of bringing some 400 to move around. It will all be well. That's all we could do in this small village".
Mayor from Cluj county: "I prepared good people, that is from our side, for the voting sections. (...) I talked with a councillor to drive his personal car and bring people around". [Asked about stimuli for voters:] "God forbids! I don't do things like that!"
Note: All contacted people are small village settlement mayors. Their identity would not be revealed, but the Romanian-language version of HotNews.ro would provide audio records to testify the authenticity of the discussions.