Central Europe Review The International OSI Policy Fellowships (IPF) program
Vol 2, No 25
26 June 2000
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Miorita - Romanian Current Affairs Championship Politics
Catherine Lovatt

"They think it's all over... it is now!" As the English football team reels at Romanian pressure in Euro 2000, memories of the 1998 World Cup resurrect themselves. In Romania, the political system reels under the pressure of an economic downturn.

Football is a game of skill and tactics, something that the Romanian team can be proud to possess. Unfortunately, their politicians at home utilise these talents to a standard that epitomises the phrase coined against the English team in The Guardian on 21 June 2000: "Just not good enough."

Just as some footballers in Euro 2000 appear to be "taking out" their most threatening opposite number, some Romanian politicians appear to be attempting the same tactic - with varying success. The local election campaign brought to the surface certain indiscretions, revealing the shadowy past of several politicians at all levels of administration.

The results of the second ballot in the local election mayoral race have now been cast and published. As expected, the Party for Social Democracy (PDSR) came away with the majority of mayoral offices with 1051 out of the 2955 contested. The Democratic Party (PD) gained 482 mayorships (Radio Free Europe, 22 June 2000). The Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) came in a disappointing seventh place: political wrangling has taken its toll.

Accusations have been bandied around over recent months set to discredit "threatening" opponents in the drive for power. This trend is likely to continue until the general elections in November have been finalised. The latest tact is emanating from the Constantinescu camp. On the anniversary of the "University Square" demonstration, President Emil Constantinescu officially apologised on behalf of the state for the atrocities inflicted upon the protesters by the previous Iliescu administration.

Defending democracy

In 1990, from the end of April to the beginning of June, a few hundred students blocked University Square in Bucharest. They were protesting against the transformation of the National Front into a political party. They barricaded themselves in, set up tents, arranged anti-Communist concerts and went on hunger strike. On 12 June the government, headed by Ion Iliescu and under the premiership of Petre Roman, decided to dissolve the protest under the guise of a "...routine and legitimate order-keeping operation." (Petre Roman, Nine o'clock, 13 June 2000)

On 14 June, miners from the Jiu Valley were called in to Bucharest to disperse the protesters on behalf of the government. In the process seven young people were killed, hundreds injured and 1000 illegally arrested.

That evening Iliescu thanked the miners for defending democracy.

Iliescu has never apologised for the 1990 debacle whereas Roman blames the security forces at the time. Constantinescu's recent public address was a stab in the back for both Iliescu and Roman. In a national TV address Constantinescu said that those to blame should "assume the responsibility for their deeds." He went on to say: "On behalf of the state I apologise to all those who were affected by the violence directed against the citizens in 1990." (Nine o'clock, 16 June 2000)

Constantinescu has managed to find himself clear of most recriminations but, ironically, he has born the brunt of the backlash. The local election results saw Iliescu's PDSR stride ahead of the closest opposition, the PD, headed by his previous "partner in crime," Petre Roman. Of the meagre 51 per cent of the population who voted, accusations of money laundering and corruption alongside past atrocities, seem to hold little weight for individual voting decisions.

Turnaround of recent trends?

However, all may not be as it seems. The PDSR have achieved an element of success in the local elections, but the indicators are there to suggest that the general elections may now follow a different pattern. Methods to discredit the opposition have resulted in various confusing perceptions, not only for the outside observer but also for the Romanian voter.

The National Investment Fund scandal saw many Romanian investors fearing the loss of their savings and investments. As a result, they withdrew their money. This episode has expanded and now also afflicts various banks including the Banca Comercială Româna. Trust in financial institutions has waned and despite assurances from the government and the banks themselves that money has not been lost, Romanians refrained from voting in protest.

Low turnout may primarily be the result of immediate insecurities. By November, the situation may have changed. Greater voter participation could mean a switch in favour of the present ruling coalition parties. The PDSR could therefore lose out, having been lulled into a false sense of security during the local elections.

Hints of a turnaround have already been witnessed. In major towns and cities, notably Timişoara, Bucharest and Cluj, the PDSR have lost out in the second ballot as oppositional voters joined forces.

The Democratic Party and Petre Roman find themselves in a key pivotal position. Ultimately, the balance of power will lie with whomever they decide to ally with. The first round ballot saw rumours of a left-wing coalition with the PD joining the PDSR. The PD has recently thrown these aspersions to the wind.

On Wednesday 21 June, Nine o'clock reported that the PD had violently rejected offers of
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co-operation launched by the PDSR and had accused the party of practicing a "disguised Communism." The new General Mayor of Bucharest, Traian Băsescu, commented that the PD had refrained from accusations during the electoral campaign for reasons of fair play. Their plan is now to pull support from the PDSR towards the PD in time for the general elections.

However, there are suspicions that the process has already begun, even prior to the official local election campaign. Petre Roman conveniently avoided any direct comment on his involvement in the various scandals that have been flying around, even though his involvement has been implied.

The origin of the Costea scandal, in particular, is as yet unknown. As the PNŢCD, ApR and PDSR threw accusations at each other, the PD remained strangely isolated. Looking further ahead it is clear from the opinion polls that Petre Roman is currently in fourth place for the Presidential elections behind Ion Iliescu, Emil Constantinescu and Teodor Melescanu of the ApR.

All three candidates have recently lost
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a degree of credibility for their varying inclusion in political scandal. Add to this the success of the PD in the local elections and you have a surprising degree of strength coming from the PD and Roman corner.

Politics is like a game of football. Skill and tactics are crucial and, if deployed in the right manner, can mean the difference between success and failure. As in a game of football, one side is invariably more skilled than the other. The Romanian local elections have seen an approach that skirts the edges of fair play. Scandals have bounded from all corners discrediting people and parties. Amid the confusion the PD appears to hold strong - perhaps the manipulator "taking out" the opposition.

Catherine Lovatt, 26 June 2000

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