Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Political Uncertainty Follows Romania Vote

Fears are growing that a political logjam between the new president and the centre-left bloc in parliament will jeopardise much-needed reforms.
By Marian Chiriac

Romania is braced for a period of political uncertainty after centrist candidate Traian Basescu won an unexpected victory in the presidential election this week.

 

But as Basescu's alliance of Liberals and Democrats, DA, failed to secure a parliamentary majority, the possibility of a snap election has been raised.

 

Basescu, 53, the mayor of Bucharest, became Romania's third post-communist president following a campaign that centred on replacing the ruling ex-communists with a reformist team in the run-up to European Union entry, which is hoped for in 2007.

 

He takes over from Ion Iliescu, who has been president for 11 of the 15 years that have passed since the revolution that deposed Romania’s former dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu.

 

In his victory speech December 13, Basescu said his priority would be to fight corruption and to free state institutions from political interference and "put them to work on behalf of the citizens".

 

He added, "Political influence should not be allowed. The president should watch over this".

 

The remarks seemed aimed at his opponent, the defeated presidential candidate Prime Minister Adrian Nastase.

 

Nastase's Social Democratic Party, PSD, is widely seen as tainted by corruption and political foul play. However, it retains a strong following in rural areas, among the older generation and lower income groups.

 

Their support ensured Nastase's party won 189 of 469 seats in the parliamentary elections held on November 28, ahead of the DA, which took 161 seats.

 

The rest went to the ultra-nationalists of the Greater Romania Party; a small pro-business party, PUR, and a party representing ethnic Hungarians, UDMR.

 

"This is the most fragile political situation Romania ever faced in the last 15 years as neither side has enough seats to form a parliamentary majority," journalist Mircea Zamfir told IWPR.

 

"This shows Romania is deeply divided, with rural people mostly voting for the ruling party and urban types preferring the opposition."

 

Nearly half of Romania's population lives in the countryside, where most people rely on low state pensions, which the PSD promises to raise.

 

The country’s division along social and geographical lines opens up the prospect of a future confrontation between the right-of-centre president and the dominant centre-left faction in parliament.

 

In Romania, unlike most European countries, the president nominates the prime minister, who then forms the government.

 

Basescu will want to give that post to a candidate from his centrist alliance, which will not have a majority in parliament.

 

He said it would not be easy for the president to bring either the PSD or the ultranationalists into government without jeopardising reforms which are vital for EU entry.

 

"Any political edifice that includes the Social Democratic Party or fringe nationalists would render the fight against corruption impossible and would be against the national interest," Basescu said.

 

The new president may have no choice, however. His only other possible allies, the PUR and UDMR, are both close to the Social Democrats.

 

The PUR meanwhile has proposed that Basescu include the PSD in a new "national coalition", which would open up the possibility of Nastase remaining prime minister.

 

However, the DA has already rejected the proposal for a joint government of leftists and centrists, saying it was "not the way politics should be carried on today".

 

Analysts are struggling to imagine a workable third scenario. "Romania is still an intriguing country, where surprises often happen,” Alexandru Purcarus, professor of NATO security issues at Bucharest University, told IWPR.

 

He raised the possibility of a handful of PSD or PUR “turncoats” switching allegiance over the next few days “to 'help' Basescu form a new government".

 

However, Purcarus warned that “this would not produce a strong government, capable of pushing forward necessary reforms. Fresh parliamentary elections are very probable, early next year".

 

Under the Romanian constitution, parliament has two months to approve a new government after the president has submitted this request at least twice. After that, the president may dissolve the legislature and call early elections.

 

Claudiu Saftoiu, a media and political trainer, told IWPR that months of delays would be undesirable for a country racing to join the EU.

 

"I hope that a government, even a minority one, will soon be formed,” Saftoiu said. "Any delays might create problems with the European Union."

 

On December 14, Romania and neighbouring Bulgaria completed membership negotiations with the EU aimed at bringing them into the union in 2007.

 

However, Brussels has signalled that it will continue to take a tougher line with Romania when monitoring progress in key areas, including the fight against corruption, judicial reform and ending state aid to companies.

 

Marian Chiriac is a regular IWPR contributor in Bucharest