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This fall, the Romanian people had to choose from 14 candidates running for the presidential seat. Among these, the current Prime Minister Victor Ponta, MEP and independent candidate Monica Macovei, former Tourism Minister Elena Udrea, former mayor of Sibiu Klaus Iohannis, and former Prime Minister C.P. Tariceanu, were the most noteworthy candidates. Now, only Ponta and Iohannis are left in the competition. The winner will be announced after the second voting round on November 16.

Electoral campaigns in post-communist Romania are becoming increasingly eventful. The campaign preceding this year’s elections was no exception. Just to give you an idea of how the campaign was marred by lies, manipulation and twisting the truth, I have listed a number of rhetoric fallacies the candidates used to discredit their opponents or cover up their own mistakes:

1. The ‘appeal to pity’, defined as an attempt to induce pity to sway opponents, was used by Victor Ponta to answer to the resurfacing accusations of plagiarism against him: ”I am accused of something I did wrong 16 years ago. If I would have killed someone, after 16 years, I think I would have been set free. I think I have paid the political and moral price. It has affected me a great deal. I would be lying if I said that this scandal and the repeated accusations did not affect me. I have a question: how many decades do I have to pay for something the justice system deemed to be untrue, but part of the public considers me to be guilty of? “, he asked.

2. ‘Ad Hominem’, which means bypassing an argument by launching an irrelevant attack on the person and not their claim, was used by Ponta and members of his party when he suggested that his main opponent, Klaus Iohannis, is not a ”good Romanian” because he is a member of the German-speaking community and a Protestant (whereas a majority of Romanians is Orthodox). He also stated that, because he is an ethnic German, Iohannis is ”representing foreign interests’’ and that, because he does not have any children, he is not a ‘good’ person! Elena Udrea has also said that Iohannis talks too slow and that people should not follow his statements even when they are interesting. Iohannis has declared from the outset that he will not use ad hominem arguments in his campaign.

3. ‘Affirming the consequent’ – assuming there is only one explanation for the observation made – is what Elena Udrea did in commenting on Basescu’s accusation that PM Victor Ponta was an agent of the secret services: ”For us it was strange that he rose from the group of young lawyers and all of a sudden became the head of the Control Authority. I have no other evidence; I believe what the President (Basescu) is saying.”

4. The ‘appeal to design’ refers to a claim or suggestion that something is good just because it is nicely designed or beautiful visualized. Elena Udrea’s posters accompanied by the slogan ”Good for Romania” are a good example.

5. The ‘appeal to fear’ – an argument that increases fear and prejudice towards the other side – was used by Ponta’s political party in a desperate attempt to win over the voters of the opposition. They sent flyers to pensioners across the country announcing that Klaus Iohannis, the main opposite candidate, will cut pensions if he wins the elections.

6. ‘Begging the question’ (supporting the truth of a claim without any evidence other than the conclusion of that claim) was exemplified by Elena Udrea accusing Klaus Iohannis of putting pressure on the judiciary to postpone a court case in which he is accused of holding an incompatible office while he was mayor of Sibiu until after the elections.

7. ‘Suppressed evidence’: Ponta stated that during his mandate, Romania recorded the highest growth rate in the EU; 3.5% of GDP. He used 2013 as the year of reference, when the surprising growth was driven by exports and an abundant harvest. But data from 2014 suggests Romania re-entered a technical recession after two consecutive quarters of GDP contraction, with a one percent decrease in the second quarter. The Prime Minister decided to ignore this evidence during the campaign.

8. ‘Circular logic’ has been used by Victor Ponta when he said that the budget deficit  caused by a planned 5% reduction of employers’ contribution to the social insurance will be covered by funds to be earned from the positive effects of this reduction, such as foreign investments. In other words, he is saying that the cutback is good because it will cover the budget deficit, which was caused by the cutback in the first place.

Unfortunately, such rhetoric fallacies are used daily by many Romanian politicians, not only during electoral campaigns. In particular, the use of ad hominem arguments is widespread, which seriously undermines the debate.

Factors such as the lack of political culture, a politicised media and an education system that does not encourage critical thinking and information literacy contribute to the success of politicians who are aggressive and unprincipled. This explains their re-election despite their poor performance in improving the country. It’s a vicious circle.

About the Author: Doris Manu (Romania) is currently studying at the College of Europe – Bruges. She holds a Master’s Degree in South-Eastern European Studies from the University of Belgrade and a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Bucharest. She has completed several traineeships in Romania, Croatia, Kosovo, and most recently at the Delegation of the EU to Serbia.

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