Sorin Frunzăverde — The “Get out and Vote” Guy
Romanian political parties have a history of unusual electoral tactics. In fact, regardless of their political colour or history of membership in one party or another, one can safely say of Romanian politicians that they would do almost anything to win. Some of these unusual tactics fall squarely in the category of electoral bribery. Local elected officials, usually those close to the party in power give out branded buckets, t-shirts, caps and banners, alongside basic staples such as flour, oil, sugar and cornmeal. All with the clear implication that the recipients of such bounties should vote with the party whose logo is on the bucket. This brand of “flour bucket politics” was, for a long time, universal in Romanian politics, especially in poor and rural areas.
Another form of electoral bribery was the ever-present concert/barbecue. Mayors looking to get themselves or their parties re-elected would throw a barbecue bash with b-list musicians and free food, coincidentally around election time. Often, these blowouts would be to celebrate another mainstay of Romanian election years: the successful infrastructure project. Whether it’s 10 more kilometers of highway, a few plugged potholes or a new and shiny sports center in a town lacking sewers, ribbon cutting becomes a national sport for politicians who do it with immense gusto.
All of the above fall under the “carrot” side, or electioneering by way of bribery. Conversely there is the “stick” part of the electoral equation, and that is the subtle art of forceful mobilization and political pressure. This is where party grandees, like “Local Barons” and skillful mobilizers like “Daddy” Liviu Dragnea got their name. Of course, that renown is often made illegally, as was the case with Dragnea himself. Whole villages get forcefully carpooled to the polling station, citizens get pressured to vote for the “right” candidates by mayors and local officials who often double check their secret ballot to make sure that the voters did not make a “mistake”. All under the top-down scrutiny of Dragnea-like skilled mobilizers. And for every Liviu Dragnea there is a Sorin Frunzăverde on the other side of the political line.
Frunzăverde is a career politician if ever there was one. An engineer by trade, Frunzăverde climbed the relatively short ladder of political power in his home county of Caraș-Severin rather quickly. By 1992 he had quit his former job as QA manager for the Reșița steel mills and was already a county councilor as well as the director of the Caraș-Severin county chamber of commerce. When FSN, the post-communist (or neo-communist according to some) national unity party split into two wings, Frunzăverde stayed with the wing that would become the Democratic Party (PD) and was rewarded for his loyalty when PD became part of the reformist coalition government that came to power in 1996. The aptly named Frunzăverde — “frunză verde” translating as “green leaf” in Romanian — was offered the position of water, forest and environment minister, a feat of ironic naming unsurpassed until the same position would later be occupied by Rovana Plumb (“Lead”). Frunzăverde would go on to become the Minister for Tourism after a cabinet reshuffle, only to ascend to the lofier job of Minister of Defence after a second reshuffle, in what is surely one of the strangest ministerial paths in contemporary Romanian politics.
After the 2000 elections, Sorin Frunzăverde was elected to the lower house of Parliament for a four year term, a term that ended with both the Frunzăverde becoming rising stars, as the PNL-PD alliance completely trounced their social-democratic opponents in the 2004 elections. Serving as minister of defence once again, he was then sent to Brussels as one of Romania’s first MEPs.
After the PD was renamed the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL), Frunzăverde became one of the “branding” architects of the party. He switched the PDL’s membership withint he European Parliament from the socialist group (S&D) to the European People’s Party (EPP), just as the latter was becoming the uncontested dominant force in the European Parliament. An organizer-extraordinaire, Frunzăverde switched back to local politics and was elected as county council president in his home county of Caraș-Severin. It was here that he developed the ironclad vote-mobilization machine the party needed in its electoral strongholds. It was also here where the Caraș baron overstepped his authority and electioneered his way into a conviction.
In the heated Presidential elections of 2014 all electoral bets were off. With the Social Democratic Party in power and prime minister Ponta running for president against his unlikely counter-candidate, the German mayor of Sibiu, Klaus Iohannis, both PSD and the opposition were trying the best to mobilize as much of their traditional voting public as possible. When long queues and (allegedly) deliberately slow-footed voting procedures throughout the PSD-adverse Romanian Diaspora turned into a fully-fledged international scandal, Frunzăverde and his local baron peers threw their own electioneering into overdrive to try to counter this alleged PSD move.
Frunzăverde and his second-in command called PNL mayors in Caraș county and “persuaded” them to mobilize their electorate for Iohannis or risk not getting any money in their entire term. Unfortunately for Frunzăverde that is not just squarely against the law, but is also easy to prove. Frunzăverde was indicted by the Romanian National Anticorruption Directorate in 2015 and, less than a year later, got a final suspended sentence of two years in prison. Frunzăverde was ordered by the court to undergo “social re-integration” training as part of his suspended sentence deal and Frunzăverde was forced to quit his party. Alas, now without his political “talents”, the whole Caraș-Severin organization collapsed and the county president seat is now in the hands of the Social Democrats. Proof once more that, if you organize politics according to feudal principles, all it takes for the whole fief to crumble is the removal of the “local baron”.