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Romania's Election: Politics As Usual

By Paul Maximilian Bisca

As Romania faces parliamentary elections this Sunday, the country is at the crossroads. Though the economy has been growing at an unprecedented rate of 9 percent, corruption is still ripe and major infrastructure projects are lagging behind. Most importantly, there is no visible effort to bolster the government's institutional capacity to absorb the 28 billion euros that Romania, as a new EU member state, will receive in EU development aid until 2013.

Sunday's vote could have been the right moment for Romanian politicians to hold serious conversations on how to respond these challenges. This is especially true given that this election will be the first in Romania's post-communist history in which citizens will chose candidates in individual districts rather than cast their ballot for slates of office seekers nominated by each party.

Unfortunately, such substantive debates have been overshadowed by a number of controversies exploited, if not engineered, by President Traian Basescu, Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu and the heads of the main opposition parties.

As the campaign took off, a majority of current parliament members, seemingly in denial of the global economic downturn, passed legislation to double the salaries of schoolteachers. Tariceanu -- the leader of the center-right National Liberal Party (PNL) and a former ally of President Basescu in the center-right coalition for "Justice and Truth" -- initially refused to implement the decision. Then, President Basescu and his Liberal-Democratic Party (PLD) in turn accused him of neglecting the country's education system.

He also claimed that the Prime Minister was plotting a coup d'etat against him together with opposition Social Democrats (PSD). Social Democrats voted to impeach Basescu in April, 2007 on the grounds that he had allegedly violated the Constitution, although courts ruled that no such violation ever took place. Basescu scored an overwhelming victory in an ensuing referendum, and the political guerilla war with the Prime Minister and the opposition continued.

In the noise of such bitter partisan struggles, politicians appear to have forgotten that one of the chief goals of an election campaign to give them a chance to debate concrete proposals on how to deal with their country's challenges. Nineteen years after the fall of communism, Romanian politics is dominated more by individual ambitions and party interests than by the effort to seek consensus in the name of a much greater cause: the consolidation of a truly functional democracy.

Paul Bisca is a graduate student in the IR/Strategic Studies program at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Bologna Center in Italy.

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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.

Comments (1)

carolineely999 Author Profile Page:

Are you surprised? After a promising start, Basescu has become as shady and selfish as the sleazebag he defeated, Adrian Nastase -- although even more of a drama queen, which is the last thing the country needs. Romania has never been well-governed. It's a shame.

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