Tuesday 7 November saw the passing of the deadline for official challenges to the candidature of those seeking the presidency. Overall, the Constitutional Court received and determined 59 challenges to the 13 candidates. The decision of the Constitutional Court's deliberations resulted in the removal of the registration of one candidate, independent Lucian Orasel. Orasel was deemed to have dual nationality and hence was ineligible to stand for the position of president.
The latest opinion polls all seem to point towards an overwhelming victory in both the parliamentary and presidential elections for Partidul Democratiei Sociale din România (Party for Social Democracy in Romania, PDSR) and its leader Ion Iliescu. A Metro Media poll carried out towards the end of October canvassed the opinion of over 2000 people in 18 different regions of Romania. Significantly, 20 per cent of the sample said that they were undecided as to whether they would vote or not during the election.
This poll showed that in the presidential election, Iliescu would receive 44.3 per cent of the vote, which is consistent with other poll findings. The second place candidate in the presidential race becomes important if the leading contender does not achieve more than 50 per cent of the ballot. In that case the Constitution requires a second ballot to take place with the leading two candidates as contenders. It is here that the polls show divergence amongst the three candidates who are striving for second place.
Metro Media gives politically independent Prime Minister Mugur Isărescu 15.8 per cent of the vote. He is followed by Theodor Stolojan of Partidul Naţional Liberal (National Liberal Party, PNL) and Corneliu Vadim Tudor of Partidul România Mare (Greater Romania Party, PRM). However, a Gallup poll taken on 26 October concludes that ultra-nationalist Tudor holds a strong second place ahead of both Stolojan and Isărescu.
This poll also indicated a considerable move in the fortunes of Petre Roman of Partidul Democrat (Democratic Party, PD) who was shown to be making up ground on the second place contenders.
Another poll carried out by the Romanian Academic Society (SAR) linked voting choice to the TV channels watched. Their findings confirmed Iliescu's lead from the audiences of all channels. This poll also emphasised a divergence in choice for second place candidate from the audiences of different channels.
As expected, the European Commission's Report on Romania's progress towards accession criticised their record on children's rights. However, head of the National Agency for Children's Rights Protection (ANPDC) Vlad Romano responded by suggesting that the EU had failed to recognise the effort and progress already made.
"We admit many things still have to be done to improve conditions in these institutions ... but to say the system is in a crisis is exaggerated," Romano continued, disputing EU representative Baroness Emma Nicholson's assertion that Romania's child care system was in crisis. (Reuters, 8 November 2000)
On 6 November, Prime Minister Isărescu called together representatives of the 16 political parties that have seats in parliament. They were invited to become signatories to a document that set out Romania's commitment to its children. The document acknowledged that the state was responsible for the protection of institutionalised children and pledged that all parliamentary parties would ensure that the rights of all children are maintained.
Opposition parties, PDSR, Alianţa pentru România (Alliance for Romania, ApR) and Partidul Unităţii Naţionale Românilor (Party of Romanian National Unity, PUNR) asked for a week to consider their response. Isărescu admitted that the lack of progress in improving the living standards of children who lived in institutions was one of the failures of his government.
Benefits and pensions
The government have passed an emergency order, whereby the amount of child benefit paid to families by the state was doubled. A rise from just over USD three per month to over USD six per month was implemented with immediate effect. The government hopes that this measure will help to slow down the rate at which children are being abandoned by their families. The child benefit is taxable and so this programme is being presented as a means of wealth re-distribution.
Prime Minister Isărescu confirmed that state pensions would be adjusted in line with inflation and not just paid at the promised 1.5 per cent. He said, "I assure pensioners that in case the October, November and December inflation rate is higher that 1.5 percent, their pensions will be adjusted in line with the inflation rate." (EvZ, 8 November 2000)
Isârescu's statement followed criticisms that this was an electoral action. He continued by claiming that the problems facing pensioners were a result of decisions of previous governments. Some allowed mass early retirement and so created a situation where 4.5 million employed people were being required to support six million recipients of a state retirement pension.
The Members of the Chamber of Deputies also considered pensions this week. They took the opportunity to pass an emergency order, which amended the law on members' pay. Their decision was that retired members of parliament should receive as a pension 70 per cent of the average wage of elected members.
And finally action...
500 coal miners from five mines in the Jiu Valley downed tools on Friday and gathered outside the National Pit Coal Company Headquarters (CNH). The miners are demanding a 40 per cent pay rise and the dismissal of their Trade Union representatives. The miners believe that their representatives are not representing their interests.
Ion Iliescu informally met the foreign press this week. International concerns that Romania might return to a neo-Communist regime under Iliescu were not calmed, as he said, "We are not being ordered around by the IMF (International Monetary Fund), the World Bank or the European Union." (Reuters, 7 November 2000)
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