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Romania - Presidential and General Elections

Traian Basescu's unexpected victory

Traian Basescu's unexpected victory

28/11/2004 - Results - 2nd round

Like their Ukrainian neighbours the Romanians demonstrated on Sunday evening beneath orange flags in Independence Square, Bucharest and in the streets of Timisoara, Brasov and Cluj to celebrate the election of the Justice and Truth Alliance (DA) candidate, Traian Basescu as President of the Republic.

Contrary to all of the forecasts made by the opinion polls that had declared Prime Minister Adrian Nastase victor, with an advantage of around five points over his rival, Traian Basescu became President of the Republic on Sunday 12th December winning 51.23% of the vote. "It is the will of the Romanian people that provided me with this firm victory," declared the opposition leader on the announcement of the results that came on Monday morning only - they had run neck and neck all night.

Traian Basescu succeeded in mobilising the electorate of the major towns, mainly those in the capital of Bucharest where he is mayor; Adrian Nastase for his part had visibly taken the majority of his votes during the first round on 28th November last. It also appears that the Justice and Truth Alliance candidate benefited from the transfer of a majority of the votes on the part of the electorate from the Party of Great Romania. Around three quarters of those who had voted for Corneliu Vadim Tudor in the first round voted for Traian Basescu on Sunday. Between rounds the latter had publicly called upon the electorate of the populist movement. "I have no reluctance in accepting the votes from the extreme right, on the contrary I call for those votes. I want to be president of all Romanians and I should like to point out that there is no difference between the citizens of this country," he declared.

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, the ruling Social Democrat Party candidate (PSD) won 48.77% of the vote and admitted defeat. "It is the Romanian people's decision and I respect that," he said. Finally the present President of the Republic Ion Iliescu said he was pleased with the election that he esteemed had been held "correctly" and also that Romanian democracy had functioned well.

We should remember that the Party of Great Romania (PRM) led by Corneliu Vadim Tudor had called for a boycott of the second round of the presidential election, whilst the Democratic Union of Romanian Magyars (UDMR) had, for its part, called on its electorate to vote in favour of Adrian Nastase. No irregularities were announced during the second round of the presidential election that was supervised by some three thousand independent observers. Between rounds the Central Electoral Bureau had taken steps to reduce the opportunities for infringements. The participation rate rose to 55% i.e. two points less than during the first round on 28th November.

This presidential election revealed that the country is split into two. On the one hand there is the middle class, who are quite young, qualified, urban but this also includes entrepreneurs and intellectuals who support the reforms promised by Traian Basescu; on the other hand there are the rural classes, who are older, less educated and who are in favour of Adrian Nastase and the Social Democrat Party. The west (Timisoara), the centre (Transylvania) and Bucharest voted in favour of the Justice and Truth Alliance whilst the east (Moldova) and the south (Valachia) voted for the Social Democrat candidate.

The fifty year old mayor of Bucharest, who is nicknamed "Popeye" due to his past as a ship's captain shares the same character as the famous sailor. He is frankly spoken and his sense of humour comprise two vital traits of this character who brilliantly succeeded in using them to his favour during a televised debate with Adrian Nastase on 8th December last. He was Transport Minister for the first time in 1991 and then after that from 1996 - 2000; he was elected mayor of Bucharest in 2000 and won this position again in the first round of the local elections in June beating Foreign Affairs Minister, Mircea Geoana with 54.9% of the vote.

His election as president of the Republic does in fact resemble his rise to his position as mayor of the capital. Traian Basescu, who was late in presenting himself as a candidate to the position of the town's first magistrate, just managed to scrape victory in 2000 by a few votes and was elected to lead the town where the institutions had been in Social Democrat Party hands. We should remember that the Justice and Truth Alliance candidate was able to present himself as candidate for the Presidential election due to the poor health and resignation of Theodor Dimitriu Stolojan on 2nd October. Again he has managed to take the Presidential election by a narrow margin and will have to share Parliament where the Social Democrat Party members are in the majority.

The new President's first task will be to create a government whose responsibility it will be to finalise Romania's accession to the European Union. Indeed the appointment of a Prime Minister, according to the Romanian Constitution, is the responsibility of the President of the Republic and this appointment then has to be approved by Parliament.

We should remember also that the Social Democrat Party won the general and senatorial elections that took place on the same day as the first round of the presidential elections on 28th November. The PSD holds 189 seats within the Chamber of Representatives versus 161 for the Justice and Truth Alliance. Traian Basescu, who is in the minority in Parliament, will now have to put together the future government.

The Justice and Truth Alliance leader has requested the support of two small parties, the Democratic Union of Romanian Magyars (UDMR) and the Humanist Party (PUR). The UDMR leader UDMR, Marko Bela, has made the first steps towards the President saying, "if the present configuration develops enabling us to have the majority then we shall have to develop our position. Our principles remain the same: political stability, parliamentary majority and a government programme that is acceptable to the Hungarians," he added. As for the PUR, that had made an alliance with the Social Democrat Party during the general and presidential elections - it maintained its "political and doctrinarian independence" and said that it was in favour of a government that "covered a wide national and pro-European spectrum". By joining together the three parties would hold the majority in Parliament with 241 MP's out of the 469 that comprise both Chambers.

For his part the present President of the Republic, Ion Iliescu, believes that a possible majority with the AD-UDMR-PUR "would be too weak especially as Romania has to work hard to integrate the European Union." The outgoing President would prefer a national union government comprising the Justice and Truth Alliance and the Social Democrat Party. This hypothesis has however been rejected by Traian Basescu. "A government that includes the PSD would be contrary to the vote of the Romanians against corruption," he maintained. For his part Adrian Nastase said he was ready to "support the new President in the task of continuing on their road to the European Union."

Traian Basescu again excluded the idea of an alliance with the Party of Great Romania led by Corneliu Vadim Tudor. Finally the eighteen ethnic minority MP's are to decide shortly on their position "vis-à-vis" the new President.

On Monday the new President repeated his campaign promises to fight against corruption. "Corruption in the upper echelons will be considered a threat to national security," maintained the Justice and Truth Alliance leader promising to do away with the system established by the Social Democrat Party. "If I am elected they will have to pay their debts to the State otherwise they will have to choose between bankruptcy and prison," he declared before adding, "my main objective is to unite the Romanian nation, both Romanians here and abroad, in order to achieve our main goal in terms of foreign policy and that is accession to the European Union on 1st January 2007. Membership might be postponed by a year if Romania does not adhere to its commitments and it is revealed that the country is really not ready to fulfil its obligations, notably in terms of competition and the independence of the legal system.

During his electoral campaign Traian Basescu said that he was in favour of renegotiating two chapters of "acquis comunautaire" involving energy and competition. "The government committed a serious mistake by accepting to harmonise the price of energy with that of the other EU countries in January 2007. In Romania the price of energy is at present half of that practised in the other Union countries. However many Romanians find it difficult to pay their energy bills," he maintained.

The European Commissioner for Enlargement, Olli Rehn, said that it was neither possible nor foreseeable to re-open some membership negotiation chapters. "It would be tempting to answer positively to Traian Basescu's proposals since we were not satisfied with the results in the first place mainly because it was too generous "vis-à-vis" Romania," he maintained.

Traian Basescu has been invited to attend the European Council on 16th and 17th December that will officially herald the finalisation of Romania's candidature, and hence it will be his first encounter with his European counterparts.

Results of the second round of the Romanian presidential election 12th December 2004

Participation rate: 55%

Source Agence France-Presse
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
Other stages
2nd roundResults