INCOGNITO: How I voted for Dragnea without being a member of the PSD
Liviu Dragnea's election for the presidency of the PSD was more of an image campaign than a democratic vote among party members. The party does not have the number of members it states publicly, and the actual members were never informed on how the voting for the sole candidate would be carried out.
In order to look into these issues, I said to myself: why not go vote?
Sunday, October 11th, 13:30. I arrived home, in Pitești, the only place where my ID allows me to vote. PSD records don’t identify me as a member, nor as a sympathizer. My sole connection to the party is the bright red overcoat I wore so that I might match the roses of the social-democrat logo.
Today is voting day for PSD members who have to elect their president Liviu Dragnea. The inhabitants of Pitești seem to be staying at home. The weather is gloomy and only a few merchants are waiting for customers in the wooden kiosks in Piața Vasile Milea at the Autumn Days fair. They’re cooking fresh cauldron fish and cutting see-through slices of smoked cheese.
On my way to the city centre I passed by a building I knew to be the headquarters of PSD Argeș, but the door was locked. The press announced that voting stations would be open at the City Hall and the office of PSD MP Cătălin Rădulescu. I walked to each location and they were deserted.
The Regulation allows, among others, for voting stations to be set up in the homes of PSD members. I eventually gather the courage to call Rădulescu himself, to ask for his address.
“What? I don’t know where you’ve been, but the headquarters is close, at Hotel Muntenia, across the street from a dental clinic”, the MP tells me, seemingly irritated by the naivety of my question. “The place is packed, everybody’s coming to vote for Mr. President Dragnea”.
As soon as the conversation ends I begin to doubt the truthfulness of his words. The streets of Pitești are completely empty.
I follow his advice and quickly find the headquarters - it’s right next to this pizza place I used to go to with my high school friends. A sign mounted on a red background near the entrance clearly says: “Social Democrat Party. Argeș County Branch”.
A woman and a 14-15 year old boy exit the headquarters. “Did you vote?” “Yes, yes”, and she yanks the kid by the arm. “Common, boy, move!”.
I walk around the headquarters thinking if anyone starts asking questions I must remain calm and say what any party member would say, “I came to vote for Mister Dragnea”. I worry my slight accent might indicate I have been away from Pitești for a while. : )
“You're talking nonsense”, I tell myself. I want to smoke a cigarette to calm my nerves, but I’ve just put one out and I feel like I’m stalling. I get angry with myself and build up the nerve to go through with it. I barge in the headquarters with my ID ready, thinking my red coat isn’t enough to help me fit in. I condemn myself for the attempt to joke with PSD members by wearing red.
I prepared answers for possible questions such as “when did you join PSD?” (In the winter of 2012, I couldn’t stand the thought that Traian Băsescu was president), “who is in charge of PSD Argeș?” (Șerban Valeca, recently elected about 10 days ago), “where’s your membership card?”…
My membership card? Why isn’t my name on the member list? I cannot decide if I should answer that I don’t have the card on me, hoping that they won’t look too much into this, or that I am in fact not a member, but “I have always supported PSD, despite the fact that you won’t find me in the Sympathizer Registry”. (Yes, that’s a real thing - Sympathizer Registry.)
I am inclined to use the latter.
As usual, things don’t go as planned. In the hallway, at the entrance, a man and a woman are talking while smoking a cigarette. “Where is the voting taking place?” I ask with a big smile, as if I had been waiting my entire life to get here. The man disinterestedly points to the door on the right, and I go into the voting centre.
It looks like a regular polling centre: a few long tables are set on the left half of the room, in the middle there are two beige urns, and, on the right side, a chair and a desk nobody’s using. Next to the window I see two blue curtains of the voting booths, an indication that voting secrecy was fully ensured.
A blonde woman, sitting at one of the long tables greets me. “Your ID, please”, she says with the voice of an answering machine. “That’s all?”, I ask, veering away from the script. “You’re such an idiot” - I tell myself immediately -, “You’re blowing your own cover!”.
However, the blond woman is nowhere near as agitated as I am. She smiles at me paternally after having looked at some lists which, had I been a PSD member, would have included my name.
I am obviously not on the lists. I tell the woman that my name may not be there. I once more get the feeling I’m sabotaging myself, but I can’t help it. She waves her hand spiritlessly, as if saying it doesn’t really matter. A man hands me a paper. It’s the ballot. He also hands me a pen. There's no stamp.
I must mark with an X the box saying YES or the one saying NO. It reads like a statement of fact, not a question - the ballot it simply says: “President of PSD. Dragnea Nicolae-Liviu”.
I choose YES, but my mind is wandering elsewhere. I’m thinking about taking my phone out and turning on the camera, which I had pre-set to Autoportrait.
It’s a bit dark on this side of the blue curtain and my hands are shaking. I try out several different selfie angles but I cannot get both the ballot and myself in the picture.
I hear voices and sense some commotion. Nervously, I take a photo without the flash. I make sure it's saved. I see it’s a bit unclear and I know my hand is shaking, but I don’t want to take a suspiciously long time in the booth. I go out holding the ballot, forgetting that it must be left in the urn. The boy who had handed it to me politely draws my attention: “Any of the two urns”.
I let it slide in the urn on the left. I still can’t believe it.
I check my phone: it’s 15:30.
I sign a document, my ID is returned to me along with a short questionnaire which Dragnea will use to build his political agenda. I am told I must fill it in.
That’s what I do, like any other true party member. One of the questions refers to the most unsatisfying measure of the Ponta Government. I leave that blank. Nothing is unsatisfying.
I answer the other questions as I imagine a PSD member would: Yes, Liviu Dragnea is fit to run for the presidency of PSD. Yes, I would like to receive information on PSD projects. Yes, I know the name of the local PSD president in my city. Yes, I believe that PSD officials of my city represent the citizens’ interests etc.
“They’ve made a mistake”
Liviu Dragnea’s election for the presidency of PSD was controversial due to several reasons. The main reason - he was the only candidate. Second, the number of members the party publically acknowledges - 530.000.
Inside PSD this vote was referred to as a “census” within the party. But if I, neither a member nor a sympathizer, could vote by just using my ID, what is the relevance of the election?
Such loopholes were purposely created by the people at the headquarters. Last week, PSD General Secretary Andrei Dolineaschi, stated members who hadn’t paid their membership fee would still be allowed to vote. However, payment of the membership fee is a mandatory condition stipulated in the party’s Statute for being granted membership of PSD and, theoretically, for preserving its validity.
I contacted PSD’s spokesperson, Gabriela Firea, to ask for the party’s official stand on the fact that a non-member was able to vote unfettered for the election of Liviu Dragnea. Her counsellor replied with the promise that she would get back to me if I told her where the incident had occurred. I told her, but by the time this text was published PSD hadn’t provided any official explanation.
I also called Șerban Valeca, the newly-elected leader of PSD Argeș, to put him on his guard. He paused, then he sighed: “Where did this happen?”. I told him there was no way my name could have been on the lists and that I was only asked for my ID. I asked if there are some special lists?
“There are no special lists. They made a mistake. But where are you from? Another city?”, Valeca asked me.
“I’m from Pitești, just like you”.
“No, you’re nothing like me…”.
On Sunday evening, PSD announced an estimated turnout of 81,23% of its members. That means more than 435.000 people.
The unofficial results show that the only candidate won by a landslide: 99,5% of voters “chose” Liviu Dragnea.