TCS Daily


Institution Revolution

By Horia Paul Terpe - December 17, 2004 12:00 AM

Romania's stunning recent elections were the country's hardest fought and closest in the last 14 years. The whole campaign amounted to a tough fight for the hearts and minds of Romanians.

The first round of the elections, held two weeks ago, was a follow-up of the 2000 campaign. The Social Democratic Party (PSD, considered to be the inheritor of the former communist party), won four years ago with an overwhelming score, against practically no opposition. The lack of balance between the main political forces resulted in political control of all weak, transitional institutions by the PSD. The situation was explicitly recognized in transcripts of PSD leadership meetings that recently surfaced in the free media. The party had been planning some actions to intimidate Traian Basescu, the opposition presidential candidate and mayor of Bucharest, by cooking up some allegations against him.

Nevertheless, the democratic opposition recovered a great deal over the last two years, uniting in the "Justice and Truth" Alliance between the liberal (PNL) and the democratic party (PD) and gaining better scores than PSD in local elections, held this June.

The weak parliamentary position (14 percent of the seats in the last four years) left the Alliance unable to prevent the media blockade against its messages. This blockade was led by the public television network (the only broadcaster covering a significant part of the rural areas) and by private television networks whose tax debts were previously forgiven by the social-democrat government or who received government advertising.

There was also massive electoral fraud in the parliamentary elections and in the first round of the presidential one, held simultaneously on November 28. Basescu estimated the fraud at about half million votes, between 5 and 7 percent of the turnout. The accusations raised by the Alliance, by civil society, by the free media, diplomats and international observers in Bucharest had no effect upon the politically controlled institutions. The Alliance decided to rely upon institutions and democratic leverages and did not call on its supporters to go out into the streets to put pressure on electoral authorities, avoiding a Ukrainian scenario.

The runoff pitted Basescu against Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, the candidate of the PSD and its ally, the Romanian Humanist Party (PUR). It resulted in the historic and joyful "orange" victory of Basescu. Because of the electoral fraud scandal after the first vote, the second one was fair, as nobody wanted to risk street protests and political instability. The electoral military-style salutation of Basescu with the words "Live good!" was used everywhere.

Aside from the political games and the possible coalitions that could be formed in the coming days, several conclusions may be drawn. The first is that Romania's EU accession process will continue. Negotiations have technically closed and the political will of the EU to support Romania's accession is high, so the process will remain on auto-pilot. That means the reform measures previously agreed during negotiations will have to be implemented. Second, the political force that governs could very well lose the next elections, due to the high social costs of implementing the reforms for accession. Third, the political battle will now move inside the parliament, due to the relative balance of the two main forces and possible coalitions. The possibility of a party controlling all public institutions will be significantly reduced. Fourth, and most important, the lifetime of governments will get shorter, facilitating the consolidation of stronger institutions that not as dependent upon political power.


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