February 10, 2018
On January 29, for the first time in its history, Romania elected a female prime minister. Though Viorica Dancila’s election may seem to be a simple win for gender equality, her election to prime minister signals significant political uncertainty. Due to the infighting within the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), Ms. Dancila will be the third Prime Minister in the past seven months. The two previous prime ministers, Mihai Tudose and Sorin Grindeanu left office due to their animosity toward PSD chairman, Liviu Dragnea.
Mr. Dragnea has been a politician for more than two decades and is considered one of the most influential people in Romanian politics. However, a prior conviction for election rigging in a 2012 referendum prevents him from running for prime minister. Thus, it is believed that he is using Ms. Dancila as a proxy for his own control over the government.
What are Ms. Dancila’s qualifications for Prime Minister?
If we look at Viorica Dancila’s resume, we find a career spent moving up through the political hierarchy. In 1996, she became a Social Democratic Party member and after 4 years was elected as a local president by the PSD Women Organization (WO) in her hometown. In 2003, she became the leader of the PSD WO at the regional level and reached national acclaim in 2015 by becoming the national president of the PSD WO.
From 2009 until she was elected prime minister, Ms. Dancila served as a member of the European Parliament (MEP). Asked by the Romanian press what accomplishments as an MEP she is most proud of, Ms. Dancila avoided the question by recommending that the journalists visit the European Parliament’s web page. Another action by Ms. Dancila that revealed her character was her decision to support a PSD initiative against the wishes of hundreds of thousands of Romanian protestors. The PSD initiative made it more difficult to prosecute corruption charges at the highest levels of government. Not only did she go against the protestors, but she also criticized them for protesting such legislation.
The balance between gender equality and meritocracy
According to Deutsche Welle, Ms. Dancila has vowed to reduce bureaucracy, raise salaries and build hundreds of kilometers of new highways and railway lines by 2020. Moreover, she has pledged to make Romania a strong economy that young people will no longer want to leave. The new prime minister will face many challenges to reassure the Romanian public that her government will not backtrack on previous commitments to fight corruption and organized crime, particularly after her support for the earlier PSD initiative that weakened corruption enforcement at the highest levels of government.
In this regard, Viorica Dancila’s mandate will be very tough. She will have to demonstrate that she is a genuine leader with a clear vision and a strong character that will not be influenced by Mr. Dragnea. On the other hand, she must address Romania’s economic problems and political challenges.
A country’s government must guarantee a woman’s right to run for the highest position of its government. In order to ensure that women have this right, countries must promote and motivate women to embrace leadership, especially in countries with weak democracy, continuous political crises, and a history of communism. Character-driven, female role models are crucial for motivating young women to run for office. The issue facing Romania, Moldova, and the region as a whole are that there are few, if any, of these role models to inspire young women.
Viorica Dancila now has a great opportunity to demonstrate that women can lead and to inspire other women to follow their path/example. However, if Ms. Dancila strays from the values and ethics of a character-driven leader, she will confirm Romanian society’s patriarchal misconception that women should remain out of government.