Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 9
6 March 2000

Catherine Lovatt M I O R I Ţ A:
Dirty election campaigning

Catherine Lovatt

Romanian general elections are set to be held in November 2000. The race for power in any country always generates dirty tactics, harsh criticisms and stark opposition. In Romania, dirty tactics have already gone to the extreme with an alleged plan to assassinate the opposition leader and former president, Ion Iliescu.

Ion Iliescu, leader of the Party for Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) came to power after the downfall of Ceauşescu in the first free Romanian elections. He remained in office for a second term and was finally defeated in 1996 by Emil Constantinescu. With general elections due in November of this year, election campaigns are beginning to take shape. The most recent opinion polls show Iliescu to be ahead in the battle for the Presidency. However, there is evidence that Constantinescu is beginning to make a come-back with growing support in influential areas such as the city of Cluj Napoca.

Amid the complexities of election battles, bitter rivalries are becoming apparent, not least with the revelation that the presidency has allegedly devised a plan to prevent Ion Iliescu from running for the post. The first stage of the USD 1 million plan would supposedly aim to convince the public that Iliescu should not stand for President by destroying his public image and encouraging PDSR party members to persuade him to step down. The second stage would supposedly attempt to block his candidacy in the Constitutional Court. The constitution allows a candidate two terms as President and Iliescu has already utilised his terms. If these steps fail the final move would supposedly be to prevent Iliescu from physically running for President. In other words, via the deliberate infliction of disease, or even by assassination.

To dismiss the possibility of such actions would be a mistake. Ideally, elections should be fought and won on policies and achievements. In reality, election campaigns often involve a degree of belittling the opponent and diminishing their support whilst putting on a show of victory and power. One only has to look at the Presidential election campaign in America to witness the extent of the show. Therefore, an election campaign which undermines the public image of Iliescu is a possibility, as is a campaign to undermine the image of Constantinescu. Also, the legal restrictions laid down by the constitution could be a crucial factor in both election campaigns.

However, the more extreme plan seems highly implausible. The supposed plan to assassinate Iliescu is sleazy and unbelievable in what is considered to be a democratic election. The origins of the alleged plan and Emil Constantinescu's reaction emphasises the illegitimacy of the programme. The material called 'The plan against Ion Iliescu's candidacy to the function of president of Romania' (Monitorul, 2 March 2000) was received by the PDSR anonymously. In response Iliescu wrote to Constantinescu asking him to state his position on the matter. Rasvan Popescu, a presidential spokesman, stated that such serious accusations cannot be "hidden behind anonymous sources." He continued to say that "President Constantinescu is convinced that PDSR has made a habit of inventing false documents which are far from reality, attributing them to the Presidency." (Monitorul, 2 March 2000). Popescu, acting on behalf of the Presidency, called for an investigation into the case. The response of the presidency implies that they have nothing to hide and the apparent lack of investigative action on the part of the PDSR suggests that there could be some weight to Constantinescu's claims.

Speculatively, the plan could have been formulated by a third party in an attempt to undermine the position of the president and to encourage sympathy and support for Iliescu. Such moves bare the mark of former Securitate tactics. Indeed, Constantinescu has recognised an involvement of this kind, commenting recently: "I feel more terrorised by Ceauşescu's Securitate today than I did before 1989.... I did not collaborate with them, I was not under surveillance. I was not a victim at that time. Today, I have come to be their victim. They have defeated me in a way, because they can spread any piece of crap that they can render credible." (Nine o'clock, 28 February 2000). However, the influence of the Securitate today is partly due to the actions of Constantinescu himself. Point eight of the Timişoara Proclamation banned Securitate men and Communist Party officials from public office. In 1997, as the result of a shortage of professionals, Constantinescu proclaimed that Point Eight would no longer apply for the 2000 elections. The initial response of the Securitate to Point Eight was one of fear, but the failure of economic reforms and Constantinescu's inability to prevent Securitate regrouping have brought their original structures to the surface. The potential involvement of the Securitate in the coming elections could create and may already have created a mockery of the election campaigns.

Election campaigns are normally messy but Romania appears to be taking this to the extreme. Accusations of assassinations and an alleged plan of destruction aimed at removing the opposition are far-fetched and futile. Deliberately throwing the election campaigns into confusion makes a farce of the democratic process and negates many of the political freedoms that Romania has fought for over the past ten years. The origins of the 'Plan to prevent Iliescu from becoming President' are uncertain. The PDSR could have creatively composed the Plan to gain sympathy and to undermine their opponents, Constantinescu could have devised the Plan, as could the Securitate. The Plan's origins remain unknown, raising speculation over their authenticity. However, despite its idiocy, the Plan has caused political scandal, has influenced Romanian public opinion and has undoubtedly complicated the election process.

Catherine Lovatt, 2 March 2000

Archive of Catherine Lovatt's articles on Romania and Moldova



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