House of Cards, Season 5: Why Romanians Will Find It Familiar

Less than 24 hours ago, Netflix has officially released the 5th season of their political drama hit, “House of Cards”. In the true tradition of the series, all episodes have been launched simultaneously, thus enabling binge watchers to have a couple of lazy days (the 13 episodes have an individual length of approximately 45 minutes, which means that 585 minutes/9.75 complete hours are required to watch the new chapter from the Underwood’s lives).

If you haven’t taken the time to watch the whole season in its entirety, then you should stop reading here and come back whenever you’re ready to begin debating the events. However, it’s safe to say this: the first 5-6 episodes might seem extremely banal and not shocking enough to Romanian audiences.

After all, how can a Romanian feel surprised when he or she is exposed to practices like meddling with the elections, creating diversions on suffrage day, and ordering for the voting polls to get closed hours before the process is supposed to end? In a way, it’s like watching a mash-up of the scandals that took place during the Romanian presidential elections of 2009 and 2014, except that this time they’re getting a backstage perspective on the events.

Much like Frank Underwood, the Social Democratic government has tried to stop voters from exercising their democratic right. Image Source: RFI Romania.

On the other hand, the main differences can be found in the reasons behind the actions: in the fictional series, it’s all about instituting panic, leading through fear, and imposing a rather authoritarian regime that finds legitimacy in its attempts to keep the nation safe from a terrorist organization (ICO, the show’s own version of ISIS).

Conversely, Romanian elections had been filled with chaotic events that were based on spontaneous decisions that only proved incompetence and lack of professionalism (at least that’s the impression that

But let’s get to the parallel between events: when incumbent president Frank Underwood pulls strings to have the polls closed in swing states where he was losing, he pretty much expands on what Theodor Meleșcanu did back in November 2014: when too many people showed up at the Romanian embassy from Paris, he suggsted that they take a trip 385 kilometers away, so they can vote in Nancy, at the nearest polling station (read news article here). The minister of Foreign Affairs, who was appointed by the Social Democratic government, knew that the party he favors was losing by a landslide among diaspora voters, so the administrative measures that were undertaken proved insufficient for the high demands for voting.

In both cases, the decisions have been planned according to opinion polls conducted in the respective areas, and are intended to bring a victory: the Romanian Social-Democrats knew that they lost the 2009 elections due to diaspora votes, so they reduced the number of stamps and special cabins just to make sure that the turnout is dramatically decreased, while the fictional members of the Underwood administration have taken advantage of planned terrorist attacks and fear to close polls earlier and deter people from leaving their homes to express their political option.

The main difference is that the manoeuvre only worked in the fictional world of Netflix’s “House of Cards”, as the Romanian Social Democrats have triggered protests and suspicions of rigged elections which resulted in a higher turnout and undesired effects.

Will Conway’s brief moment of celebration with his wife from the 4th episode will bring reminiscences from Mircea Geoană’s similar moment from 2009. Image Credit: Romania TV.

But there’s yet another striking similarity that we should take into consideration, and this time it’s between Frank Underwood vs. Will Conway and Traian Băsescu vs. Mircea Geoană (the 2009 Romanian presidential elections saga). In both cases, one candidate appears to be a clear winner by the end of election day, but something unexpected happens. A lot like Geoană, Conway celebrates his victory with his wife and feels like he’s finally won the battle. However, the main difference is that Frank Underwood makes a strategic call to acknowledge his defeat just before all hell breaks loose and polling stations around the country start closing. In both cases, though, the situation is temporary and bound to shift unexpectedly.

Furthermore, the final decision has to be made according to exceptional constitutional provisions: in “House of Cards”, when the electoral college is unable to deterine the winner, it’s the House of Representatives and the Senate that have to cast a vote that decides who acts as president (and the road to the final decision turns out to be long and winding, resulting in the temporary presidency of VP Claire Underwood and another round of elections to determine the victor between Frank and Conway); slightly similarly, it was the Constitutional Court that was appealed, had to recount cancelled votes, and decide whether or not yet another round of elections would take place for the sake of fixing the supposed fraud.

But then again, similar practices lead to different decisions: while Underwood turns the situation around in his favor and uses his master manipulator skills to secure his mandate, the Romanian Constitutional Court decides not to restart the elections and declares Traian Băsescu the legitimate winner. It is worth noting that the winner of the 2009 Romanian presidential elections was officially announced by the Court on December 14th, 8 days after the elections had taken place.

The first half of the 5th season of House of Cards allows Romanians to get a backstage view on how strikingly-familiar events happen. Image Credit: The Sun.

Clearly, the fifth season of House of Cards is the darkest yet and features the sociopathic characters in their most ruthless and power-hungry states we’ve seen yet. It’s a world where the opposition gets defeated more easily than ever, and everything is possible by virtue of the presidential influence and constitutional loopholes.Hopefully, the events will be a wake-up call for present and future politicians, and none of the actions or attitudes will be emulated, regardless of the intentions. Personally, I like to regard House of Cards as a political katharsis, the show that lets you see the worse that can happen in a democracy, just to be able to spot similar attempts and avoid them. Let’s just hope that it remains so, and the next generation of politicians will act according to some ethical considerations.

This article is the result of a brief conversation I’ve had with my friend and former university colleague Alexandru Cruceru (whose insightful articles you can also find on our website), and it’s thanks to his humorous nature that these ideas came to my mind.

That’s why this article is dedicated to Alex, my dear friend and current Netflix binge watching buddy.

 

 

News Sources:

BBC News, “Romanian Opposition Alleges Fraud in Presidential Fraud”: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8399334.stm

Hotnews, “Social Democrats Decided to Contest Elections”: http://english.hotnews.ro/stiri-top_news-6691428-social-democrats-decided-contest-elections-mircea-geoana-exclude-any-collaboration-with-the-democrat-liberals-and-maintain-the-majority-with-the-liberals-and-hungarian-democrats.htm

Mediafax, “Să se voteze la Nancy, unde nu e coadă, un oraș superb”: http://www.mediafax.ro/social/melescanu-sa-se-voteze-la-nancy-unde-nu-e-coada-un-oras-superb-acesta-se-afla-la-385-km-de-paris-13567560

Romanian Central Electoral Bureau, Final Results from 2009 Presidential Elections: http://www.bec2009p.ro/rezultate-Turul%20II.html

Romanian Central Electoral Bureau, Final Results from 2014 Presidential Elections: http://www.bec2014.ro/rezultate-turul-ii-2/index.html

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