The 2024 elections and the symbiosis between political parties. Centrism vs. far right

The multiple crises that have hit Europe in recent years have led to widespread popular discontent arising from the way the ruling centrist (also known as mainstream) parties have handled the situation. Similar to the ’20s and ’30s of the last century, the waves of discontent are being exploited with relative success by extremist parties, especially by the far-right. In this article, we will try to understand the “electoral relationship” between the political parties that have been in power in recent years and the far-right and how this may influence the elections in Romania and the EU in 2024.

Where are we today? Romania’s case

In November 2021, the PNL (The National Liberal Party), PSD (The Social Democratic Party) and UDMR (The Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania) formed the “National Coalition for Romania“, a political alliance aimed at securing power for the three political parties until the 2024 general elections. As expected, the UDMR proved to be too small a partner for PSD and PNL “giants”, forcing the main representatives of the Magyar community to leave the Coalition in June 2023. Together, PNL and PSD continued to enjoy a majority of over 60% in the Parliament, as well as a Government made up exclusively of members of these political parties. Even President Klaus Iohannis is an active part of the alliance, which means that PNL and PSD hold power in the main democratic state institutions, an important detail considering this year’s elections. The opposition, which used to be led by either PNL or PSD, depending on how the governmental rotation was achieved, has now become weakened with limited bargaining power. Election polls indicate AUR (The Alliance for the Union of Romanians) as the most popular party among the current opposition parties, ranking 3rd or even 2nd in the polls, behind PSD and almost tied with PNL.

The “symbiosis” between centrist and extremist

Successive tax increases (Government Ordinance 16/2022, Law 296/2023), high inflation, low salaries compared to the rest of the EU members and, implicitly, the deterioration of the Romanians’ living standards have led to an increase in the population’s discontent and distrust towards the two parties now in power. As expected, this climate has proved to be favorable for AUR, the main representative of the Romanian far-right. With about 20% share within the last election polls, this party seems to be a threat to PNL and PSD within the context of 2024 elections. But how real is this threat to the current ruling political alliance?

Looking back 24 years ago, we remember that Romanians were faced with a complicated choice. The two candidates for President of Romania were Corneliu Vadim-Tudor, who promised that “the country will be run by machine gun”, and on the other side Ion Iliescu, the political father of today’s PSD. Although Ion Iliescu did not enjoy the sympathy of the voters at the time, Romanians chose him over Vadim Tudor, the main reason being their desire to preserve the fragile democracy won in 1989 and the fear that Vadim would push Romania away from joining Euro-Atlantic structures.

Returning to the present, we observe, in both Europe and Romania, a kind of “electoral symbiosis” between centrist political parties and far-right parties. The parties now in power are taking advantage of the majority of the population’s anxiety about what a future government led by extremists would look like. On the other hand, extremist parties are taking advantage of the political class’s lack of viable solutions and its increasing detachment from the reality of ordinary people’s lives, thus securing the electoral base needed to gain seats in parliament, other central state institutions or important positions in local government. Thus, the electoral gambit on which mainstream parties rely can be summed up as “you must elect us, because we are not extremists like the others”, an approach that can only pose a direct threat to democracy, encouraging a transition to authoritarian rule in the near future.

Why such a strategy may be potentially dangerous?

The governing parties will seek at all costs to secure their presence in power, without undertaking the social or economic reforms needed to raise living standards and remove voter discontent. Instead, political leaders will be inclined towards the ideas that have been promoted by extremist parties for several years now, encouraging an acceleration of the process of radicalisation and polarisation of society. Take France, for example, where in December 2023 the French parliament passed a new law tightening immigration policy. The legislation was backed by both President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Renaissance party and Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National (FN) party, even though the two parties claim to be fierce ideological opponents. It should be recalled that this kind of centrist approach, particularly in Western Europe, contradicts their position taken at the start of the 2015 refugee crisis.


The current ruling parties build their electoral strategy on most of the electorate’s fear as voters are faced with a tough choice: (1) either to choose to preserve the current status quo, with no guarantee that there will be a real change for the better in the future, or (2) to embrace the extremist parties that promise radical solutions to society’s current problems. This latter option would irreversibly lead to the establishment of authoritarian regimes, which in itself may lead to the disappearance of the rights and freedoms we still enjoy today. In this logic, we see how the radicalization of the political environment and of society as a whole is encouraged. Forced to constantly choose the lesser of two evils, voters may increasingly turn towards the extremes, a trend that is particularly prevalent in times of economic downturn, such as the one we are currently experiencing. On the other hand, the political parties, which until recently helped defend democracy, will draw inspiration from the ideas promoted by extremist parties, a move that would increase their electoral base and give them a good chance of another term in office. We are thus witnessing the successful exploitation of democracy’s main weakness: its vulnerability to populists/demagogues, an aspect that is exploited by many of today’s political leaders.