What will a referendum on corruption achieve?
The parliament in Bucharest voted unanimously for a referendum in which the Romanians will be able to vote on the future of the country's fight against corruption. President Klaus Iohannis proposed the referendum as a response to the protests against the government, which had tried to push through legislation that would have watered down anti-corruption laws. Romanian media argue that the vote won't resolve the conflict.
The devil is in the detail
It won't be easy to find the right question for the referendum, the Romanian service of Deutsche Welle suspects:
“The referendum, as currently announced, runs the risk of ending in an overriding consensus. In theory everyone wants corruption to be combatted because corruption basically stands for evil incarnate. ... That's why the parliamentary commissions have also unanimously endorsed the president's initiative. You can't be against something that is fundamentally positive. ... Now it's up to the president and his team of advisers to formulate a question that clearly depicts the good option but which also gives people a real choice. Otherwise the whole referendum will simply seem superfluous.”
Referendum is the wrong approach
The pro-government daily Jurnalul National also has its doubts about the wisdom of holding a referendum:
“It's not the fight against corruption as the best way to cure society that the Romanians criticise, but the biased and prejudiced approach and the incorrect measures that are being used. And they also criticise the label the DNA [the anti-corruption agency] and the SRI [the secret service] have stamped on the whole issue. So we shouldn't be discussing the need to fight corruption, or hold a referendum on it. This question can only meet with the Romanians' approval in a referendum. An approval that will give those participating in the fight against corruption a sense of legitimacy and even strengthen the arbitrary practices of the dictatorship consisting of the DNA and SRI.”
Acceptance of corruption could dwindle
A referendum on the fight against corruption could change the Romanian mentality, Deutsche Welle observes:
“No one who follows the developments in Romania will have failed to realise that the 'anti-corruption fight' in the country is perceived as a legal mechanism rather than a moral process because it was initiated by external forces [in the course of the EU accession process]. … This is also one of the reasons why the voters still elect politicians with a criminal record. … President Iohannis's initiative for holding a referendum on the issue could give the fight against corruption the domestic angle it has lacked up to now. Of course a number of Romanians have campaigned for a bitter fight against corruption over the last 15 years, but for complex psychological reasons not everyone has done so. A referendum that puts the issue firmly at the centre of public attention would be a welcome step.”
Parliamentary debate better than a referendum
Romania doesn't need a referendum but an honest debate in parliament about amnesty for corrupt politicians, political scientist Sorin Ionita writes in Contributors:
“The potential of referendums as an instrument of direct consultation is completely overrated. Particularly in such a superficial and hysterical era dominated by fake news. ... What we should demand from today's leaders is that they consult parliament on this complex and sensitive issue. ... That would lead to a serious debate, and buy time to reach compromises. Wouldn't that be the most normal thing in the world, particularly since the collective amnesty - an issue that didn't even exist for our leaders just a month ago - has all of a sudden become the most important problem in the country? What could do more to encourage a reasonable compromise between the two sides than a parliamentary debate on the topic?”