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Romanians Lose Faith in Politicians

Local elections in Romania highlight public's political apathy.
By Marian Chiriac

Romania's leftist opposition has made strong gains in local elections marred by widespread voter apathy.


The vote was a clear blow for the ruling centrist coalition but also underlined public disillusionment with Romanian politics in general.


"I am not very concerned if the country is ruled by former communist or by liberals. In my opinion, Romania needs politicians who are willing to improve the dire living conditions here," said one pensioner, reflecting the mood of the electorate.


Less than half the country's 17.6 million registered voters showed up for the municipal poll. Preliminary results suggest the former communist Social Democracy Party, PDSR, took control of local councils in most cities.


In Bucharest, PDSR candidate Sorin Oprescu, director of the city's municipal hospital, is leading with 44 per cent of the vote. Two other candidates - Catalin Chirita of the Democratic Convention and Transport Minister Traian Basescu of the Democratic Party - were trailing with 17 per cent each.


Local observers believe the poll results will provide a clear indication of the outcome of legislative and presidential elections scheduled for November. The PDSR and Ion Iliescu. who ran the country after the revolution which toppled the former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, are expected to be returned to power.


The ruling coalition's poor performance in the municipal poll reflects both its failure to raise living standards, after nearly four years of power, and a more deep-seated disillusionment with the country's ineffectual politicians.


Political analyst, Cornle Nistorescu, wrote in Evenimentul Zilei,"An important percentage of the electorate boycotted the election because one doesn't known whom to trust anymore."


Another analyst, Silviui Brucan, said,"Ultimately, this can only undermine the legitimacy of Romanian politicians in the eyes of the nation."


Public confidence in Romania's politicians is said to have plunged following spate of financial and political scandals.


In April, there were revelations about a multi-million dollar embezzlement, implicating a Romanian-born French businessman, Adrian Costea. He allegedly laundered approximately $100 million from public funds on behalf of Romanian politicians.


According to prosecutors, Costea printed electoral posters for the former president Ion Iliescu four years ago and then smuggled into the country. Costea, it's alleged, also illegally exported diesel oil to Serbia, via Bucharest, in breach of UN sanctions against Belgrade.


During the past month, the biggest state-run bank Banca Comerciala Romana, BCR, came under pressure from depositors after anonymous phone calls warned them the bank was unsafe.


In addition, one of the country's largest private investment fund, Fondul National de Investitii, FNI, has ceased trading.


Last Friday, the head of Romania's trade control organisation, Stefan Boboc, was charged with allowing illegalities in the management of the mutual fund. It's been reported that the FNI affair may have cost the state the equivalent of $49 million.


The troubles at FNI sparked violent protest on Sunday in many cities. Thousands of disgruntled investors blocked traffic in some cities, demanding that the government help them get their money back.


They also called on others to join them and boycott the elections. "Don't vote the thiefs, don't vote those who steal our money," protesters shouted in front of Romanian government headquarters in downtown Bucharest.


To compound Romania's financial problems, the International Monetary Fund, IMF, has postponed a decision on a new loan, citing concerns over the country's banking system.


Marian Chiriac is a regular IWPR contributor