Books on Romania
Update No: 127 - (19/12/07)
Romanian Centrist Party Fares Well
Recent elections to the EU Parliament held in Romania have been a litmus test of
its troubled and faction-torn politics. After the glacial calm of communist-era
politics (until the stormy end, that is in December,1989), it is as if the
Romanians are revelling in their new-found freedom to the point of near-anarchy.
The centrist party of Romanian President Traian Basescu emerged strongest in
elections for 35 representatives to the European Parliament, near final results
showed on November 26. The victory was the first time since the 1989
anti-communist revolution that the leftist Social Democracy Party, the successor
to the Communist Party, failed to win most votes in an election.
Mr. Basescu's Democratic Party was supported by 28.78% of voters, with more than
99% of the votes counted. The Social Democracy Party won 23.14%.
The center-right party of Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu scored 13.45%.
The Liberal Democratic Party won about 7.78% and the party that represents the
interests of 1.4 million ethnic Hungarians got 5.52%. No other parties scored
more than the 5% needed to get into the Parliament. The ballot was the first
time that Romanians have elected lawmakers to the European Parliament. The
country joined the European Union on January 1, last year.
Turnout was just less than 29%. Nationalists fared poorly in the elections, and
the leader of the Great Romania Party, Corneliu Vadim Tudor announced he would
resign from Romania's Parliament. He will remain party leader.
Romanians also voted on whether to change their electoral system from casting
ballots for party lists to one to select individual candidates. More than 80%
voted for change; but the vote wasn't valid because turnout was below 50%.
A re-alignment of Romanian politics is in the offing. People are squaring off
into two camps, one pro the president, the other pro the prime minister.
New party formed out of two, the PD and the PLD
The pro-presidential Democratic Party (PD) has announced its merger with the
Liberal Democratic Party (PLD), also well disposed towards the president, to
create the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL). The leaders of the two parties
announced on December 3 that their groups will merge to form a new political
party. Until internal elections take place, it will be lead by the former
Democratic leader Emil Boc and by two vice-presidents: Theodor Stolojan of PLD
and another PD designated one.
The two parties will organize extraordinary congresses in January to officially
approve the fusion. The new party will be part of the European People's Party.
Talks of a merger first appeared more than a year ago, but were repeatedly
shelved to allow PLD to run in the recent European Election on its own.
Both parties are known for their support of President Traian Basescu, who until
becoming president was leader of the PD. PD was part of a governing alliance
with the Liberals (PNL) until a political scandal followed by a reshuffle last
spring, in which PD was removed from the government, now dominated by PNL.
For its part, PLD was formed last year by former elite members of the PNL, who
were ousted from the party for their support for Basescu, who has been at
loggerheads with PM Calin Popescu Tariceanu for a long while.
According to insider sources, President Traian Basescu himself urged the fusion
between the parties, known for their common support for the head of state. The
Liberal vice-president Ludovic Orban says that “The President ordered, the two
executed”, suggesting that the newborn party is the President’s satellite.
Romanian libera quotes several politicians that argue that the decision did not
come as a surprise, since the Liberal Democrats and Democrats alike were
competing for the favours of the President. Thus, some argue that the newborn
party is a natural step forward and that the name of the party should have been
the Presidential Party.
Boc and PLD leader Stolojan said they joined forces to create a coherent,
efficient and stable version of a centre-right party.
The centre-left reacts
Social Democratic opposition leader Mircea Geoana, according to one report, has
opened talks with Liberal PM Tariceanu for a possible governing alliance. This,
if true, is a clear reaction to the merger of the two centre-right parties.
According to another report, however, the governing Liberals avoided opening up
talks with Social Democrats for a possible governing alliance, fearing that they
would become a Trojan Horse of the President.
The Social Democrats, indeed, officially announced on December 3 that they would
stick to the opposition, despite earlier rumours that talks were about to open
on a possible partnership between them and the PNL. The Liberals distrust the
Social Democrats and avoid any talks on the issue.
The main fear is that President Basescu would point a finger at the
collaboration and accuse PM Tariceanu of holding his seat by any means possible.
Social Democrat leader, Mircea Geoana has initiated talks with Romanian Liberal
PM Tariceanu regarding a possible alliance.
Geoana was summoned by his party members to push their party into the government
by December 3. As Tariceanu failed to offer seats to the Social Democrats, the
Opposition party can opt for a tougher stand or a softer one against the
Social Democratic members favor a parliamentary protocol with the Liberals, as
they wish for a long term collaboration.
More in the news, it is alleged that several magistrates, policemen and
ministers are about to receive social houses in Bucharest that should be built
for the needy. There is published the list of people that will benefit from the
social project. Among those, are high officials who hold offices in the current
Liberal government, or other important names such as former police General
Relations with Italy very tense
There is a big issue for Romania, which is causing headaches elsewhere. Its main
problems have been crime and corruption, as with Bulgaria.
The level of crime has dipped in Bucharest and elsewhere since Romania joined
the EU. But that is simply because Romanian crooks have decamped to other EU
states on their new EU passports. Many have gone to Italy. Italian and Romanian
languages share common Latin roots.
Romanians congregate in shanty towns outside the big cities, but travel into it
to make a 'living.' There is a popular outcry and a demand for convicted crooks
from abroad to be deported back. This is definitely directed at Romanians first
After a spate of violent crimes committed by Romanian citizens, the Italian
government is eager to look like it is doing something. Criminals deserve to be
punished. But politicians' overly tough talk about deporting tens of thousands
of fellow EU citizens is a regrettable attempt to ride a tide of anti-immigrant
sentiment that's rising across Europe.
More than half a million Romanians have moved to Italy to seek work, roughly 1%
of the population. Rome's mayor says three in four arrests made in his city so
far this year were of Romanians. The rape and murder in October of a
high-ranking navy officer's wife near an immigrant neighbourhood in the capital,
for which a Romanian national has been charged, sent Italians into a frenzy.
There have been media reports of vigilante mobs attacking innocent Romanians in
retaliation. Officials in Milan have already shipped out four Romanian citizens
and plan to deport a dozen more.
Demos in protest in Bucharest
Demonstrators have taken to the streets of Bucharest as tensions rise over
Italy's plans to deport Romanian nationals. Romanian Prime Minister Calin
Popescu Tariceanu discussed the situation with his Italian counterpart, Romano
Prodi, when they met in Rome in mid-November. Bucharest is also sending 30
police officers to help deal with the Romanian cases.
The spate of felonies and atrocities has prompted Italy to bring in new laws
aimed at tackling crime. "These measures specifically target those
individuals about whom police have specific information which shows clearly that
they are dangerous. It's not about mass expulsion," said Interior Minister
Romania joined the EU in January this year and more than half a million of its
citizens now live in Italy, many in makeshift camps like one near Rome. Around
20 have been sent home so far under the new crackdown. EU officials say Italy is
within its rights to deport individuals provided it respects the bloc's criteria
Appeal to reason by intellectuals
Romanian and Italian intellectuals signed an open letter appealing to reason and
responsibility as, they say, relations among the two countries have been getting
more and more tense for weeks, while the Italian media instilled a negative
sentiment against Romanians and Gypsies coming from Romania.
They warn that crimes committed by Romanians in Italy are dramatic cases indeed,
but should be considered on an individual basis according to Italian law and the
state of law.
The letter shows that politicians use the issue for political gains which only
contributes substantially to over-emphasize the tensions and ethnic prejudices.
Intellectuals write that after several Romanians were randomly “punished” in
several Italian cities the issue can get out of control. They plead for more
responsibility from the mass media in reflecting the immigrants' deeds.
The open letter is signed by some 200 Romanian intellectuals.
Second referendum in 2007
Referenda are normally associated with dictatorships. They are sometimes used by
democracies too. The second in Romania this year has just taken place. They must
have become a preferred mechanism on double-checking political prowess in
Romania, now that other tools to that effect have lost their sharpness.
It was something of a non-event. President Basescu acknowledged that he saw the
low turnout in the uninominal voting referendum, which he strongly supported, as
a lesson to be learned even for himself. The low turn-out disqualifies the
But he said the result - some 89% of the active voters supporting the
introduction of uninominal voting - was proof of the inequity proven by the
electoral laws used so far. He said he would not cease to believe that Romanians
want a thorough reform of the political class.
President Basescu said that in the 12 new member states that have joined the EU
since 2004, turnout was low in the first European elections. And he said Romania
was falling right behind Hungary in terms of turnout because European issues
have not been debated enough.
Democrats win EU poll
The referendum coincided with European Parliament elections. Romania's centrist
opposition Democrat party won the country's first election to the European
Parliament on November 25, underscoring its hopes of returning to power in next
year's parliamentary polls.
The Democrat Party of President Traian Basescu won 31.7 percent of ballots. The
vote for 35 deputies to the European assembly is seen as a litmus test of the
popularity of leading political parties ahead of the general election, due to be
held in late 2008. "We are the most important political force in
Romania," said Democrat Party president Emil Boc.
Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu's ruling Liberal Party trailed the Democrats with
15.2 percent of the ballots. But their score was a touch above expectations for
some 13 percent, showing stable backing over the last year.
Observers had expected the Liberals' standing to be eroded by disappointment
over Bucharest's reform record which has lost momentum since Romania joined the
European Union in January.
"It is a wonderful evening for the Liberal Party because we managed to
overcome expectations," the prime minister said.
Bucharest's centrists, who came to power in 2004 on an anti-graft ticket, were
praised initially for introducing broad justice and institutional reforms that
won Romania EU entry after botched attempts by other post-communist governments.
Battle-lines drawn up
The president and prime minister, with the parliament, were at odds on the
constitutionality of holding two separate votes at a time. The Romanian
president insisted that the referendum be held on the same date as EP elections
as this would save in costs and time to the people.
Suffice to say, the president survived the parliament-called impeachment vote
earlier this year. His uncompromising stance on fighting corruption and
establishing an independent judiciary, which he carried out together with Ms
Macovei, his corruption-fighting ministerial weapon, ushered Romania into the
European Union (EU). This is an achievement that a largely pro-EU population are
unlikely to forget. Especially given that EU entry took place not so long ago.
At present, the president feels the pressure from parliament and government.
Tariceanu’s Liberals currently have the upper edge owing to the coalition with
the party of the ethnic Hungarians, which traditionally serve as the fixture for
With the political infighting ongoing and Tariceanu’s Liberals unrelenting in
their attempts to oust a public-supported foe from the political arena, Basescu
continues the counter-strategy for a more Basescu-friendly parliament from these
general elections onwards.
At the same time, Tariceanu’s government has been losing out on public and
expert support. Poverty levels in the country are still high, a couple of
ministers have lost their seats after corruption scandals. Within a year, the
country’s budget has suffered a downslide from surplus to deficit and is set
to reach 3.1 per cent of GDP in an overshoot of the Maastricht threshold for
entry to the Eurozone, a critical governmental promise. Things look bleak for
the incumbent government.