21/11/2008 - D-7
2,960 candidates are running in the general and senatorial elections that will take place in Romania on 30th November: 2,065 for 346 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (Camera deputatilor) and 895 for the 143 seats in the Senate.
The Social Democratic Party (PSD), the opposition party, and the National Liberal Party (PNL) in office at present, are each putting 452 candidates forward, the Democratic Liberal Party (PD-L) led by Emil Bloc, 451, the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), a party which is a member of the outgoing government coalition led by Marko Bela, 449. 31 people are standing as independents (28 for the Chamber of Deputies and 3 for the Senate). The Romanian authorities are providing 160 million lei (45 million €) for this election.
The Chairman of the association Pro-Democracy announced his inttention to counter the decision of the Central Electoral Bureau to restrict journalist and observer access to the polling stations on the day of the election. The Chairman of the association has threatened not to validate the election results if this decision which he has compared to the measures taken in neighbouring Moldova, is maintained. The association Pro-Democracy and the Romanian Centre for Independent Journalism also published the results of the a study entitled "Action for a uninominal list" in which they quote the names of 130 candidates (from all walks of political life) who cannot be legitimately be elected MP or Senator either because they are under suspicion of having collaborated under the former Communist regime or that they cannot justify their income or that their situation (professional or personal) is incompatible with parliamentary status.
A measure included in the electoral law is widely contested, since this obliges 450,000 Romanian students to vote in their town of permanent residence which rarely corresponds with where they are studying. The Vice-President of the Democratic Liberal Party, Raluca Turcan has gone as far as asking the government to issue an emergency decree to modify the measure. "On 30th November we are holding national elections and students cannot be excluded from the electoral process due to bureaucratic obstacles."
As for Romanians abroad they now have their own constituencies and they can fulfil their civic duty in the embassies and consulates of their countries of residence. The Romanian authorities have put "The Romanian Voters' Guide Abroad" on-line to improve information provided to expats about voting procedures.
Salaries and pensions are the two central themes in this campaign. On 27th October last Romanian President Traian Basescu (PD-L) promulgated the law approving an increase of over 50% to employees and retired teachers. This rise brings teachers' monthly salary from 900 lei to 1350 lei. "Whoever neglects education and considers it a secondary factor that depends on circumstances and resources condemns himself for the future," he declared, adding that "intelligence is this country's greatest resource. It comprises 75% of the national resources, the other, oil, gas or coal, only represent 25%." "In this way I can explain how a country like Finland or Japan have succeeded so well and have excellent economic results: they have effective education systems," concluded Traian Basescu who again deplored that the best Romanian teachers work abroad and that those with doctorates leave to study in other European states.
On 27th October he also promulgated a law on the health system. He said he supported salary increases for other civil servant categories, for example those working for the legal system. He did however say that he wanted better results at the same time as the wage increases. Romania has 1.5 million workers and 4.45 million pensioners in the public sector. The Head of State who repeats that education and healthcare should be the priorities of the future government says that the Romanian economy will continue to grow in spite of the present financial crisis and plans for a GDP rise of 4.5% in 2009.
According to financial analysts the teachers' salary rises will cost around one billion € and 0.8% of the GDP.
Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu (PNL) tried in vain to stand against these wage rises. "We are not in a situation in which we can throw money out of the window," he said qualifying the law as "economically catastrophic." He maintains that the teachers' salary rises alone cannot improve the education system. He also recalls that the programme "a computer for every student" that he wanted to set up was being prevented by Social Democratic Party and the Democratic Liberal Party in the Senate.
Calin Popescu Tariceanu, whose government increased the minimum salary by 8% in July (this is will rise of 600 lei on January 1st next), has improved his image as the leader defending national interest. "The general and senatorial elections reveal a lack of lucidity amongst many people. The government cannot make any mistakes. We cannot accept the sacrifice of the Romanian economy," he indicated saying that he cannot increase teachers' salaries by 50% without bringing the economy to its knees. "Teachers will have a 50% higher salary but bread will cost five times more," he warned. In his opinion only economic growth can bring about salary increases.
He therefore postponed the 50% education sector salary rise to 1st April 2009 offering teaching unions an immediate increase of 28%. The latter declined the offer but accepted delaying a strike planned on 18th November until after the elections. "There is no doubt that the left is continuing to pursue its political objectives and to be more precise, its electoral prerogatives. The left aims to win the next parliamentarian elections, but not to govern Romania," said the Prime Minister.
The European Commission warned the country against awarding excessive salary rises. "A 50% salary increase will reduce economic growth and increase inflation," reads the Commission's report that forecasts an increase in the country's deficit. The average Romanian salary increased by 24.6% in one year (between September 2007 and 2008), rising from 1040 lei to 1296 lei.
The financial crisis that has struck Romania full on has also made a major impact on the orientation of the campaign. At the end of October the Bucharest Exchange was forced to close temporarily after a 15% decrease in the main stocks. The rapid devaluation of the national currency although controlled by the Romanian Central Bank, was forced to review its forecasts with regard to inflation. The Central Bank now plans for 6.7% price rises in 2008 and 4% next year.
"Pressure on salaries – since the latter are the real issue of this electoral campaign – is a godsend for the opposition parties who can easily use them to attack the parties in office," analyses Catalin Stoica of the pollster CURS.
On 18th November last the Prime Minister adopted an anti-crisis plan aiming to devote 10 billion euro to various measures that are due to come into force on 1st January 2009. The plan includes tax reductions and a 5% tax bonus for private parties and for companies who pay their taxes on a regular basis. Amongst the latter those who invest over 100 million € and create at least 500 jobs are due to receive the sum of 50 million €. Those who take on anyone who has been unemployed for at least three months will be granted a subsidy of 1000€. According to the head of government these new measures will lead to the creation of 100,000 new jobs in the country.
Finance Minister, Varujan Vosganian (PNL) has said that his party's programme had been put together with moderation and realism and that it would not need to be reviewed after the financial crisis. The latter has brought the achievement of the electoral promises made by the political parties over the previous weeks into doubt. Chairman of the Association of Financial-Banking Analysts, Radu Craciun has warned against the consequences of the electoral promises: "No one dare say mid electoral campaign that after the elections there will not be a period of budgetary austerity that salaries in the public sector are not in danger of being frozen and that in the private sector increases will be limited."
Public opinion has already had to brave the total cost of the electoral campaign that totals 160 million lei, i.e. 45 million €. Candidates' TV ads can cost up to 20,000€!
The Democratic Liberal Party is laying emphasis on the seriousness of the situation and has not ruled out reviewing at least half of its programme. Its leader, Emil Bloc announced at the end of October that he would present a symbolic motion of extraordinary censure to parliament on 23rd November against the National Liberal Party. In his opinion the government must resign for the good of the people, "because it is only governing in its own interest, increasing the fortunes of its friends and modifying laws to suit itself." This text is part of the ongoing battle on the right of the political scale between Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu and the President of the Republic Traian Basescu.
The Social Democratic Party has focussed its programme on social measures. Its leader Mircea Geoana hopes for a radical change in policy. He intends to "say no to a pitiless capitalism and an obsolete type of socialism" and wants to do away with the idea of a minimal State. His programme plans for the State's support of banks and a reform of State spending. "I do not want a government of technocrats, the next government will be a government of policy," he maintains.
According to the most recent poll by the Bureau for Social Research, published on 17th November last the Democratic Liberal Party is due to win 34.7% of the vote ahead of the Social Democratic Party with 31.7% and far ahead of the National Liberal Party in power, 20%. The poll which was funded by the Civil Society Foundation was undertaken by 10th and 14th November and allows for a 2.5% error margin. Speculation about post-electoral alliances between the three main parties is the focus of the headlines in the media.
The declarations made by President Traian Basescu on the appointment of the future Prime Minister are ambiguous: "I would like to warn the Romanians : even if a party wins 51% of the vote only the party from which the future Prime Minister comes can be forced on the President of the Republic and not the choice of Prime Minister himself. And if no party wins 51% of the vote the choice in the appointment of the Prime Minister is my privilege as in 2004. The Constitution has made us dependent on each other. Firstly I must appoint the Prime Minister in whom I trust," he said on 1st November last. When asked about the Democratic Liberal Party candidate for this post, economist and present chair of the party, Theodor Stolojan, Traian Basescu answered "that there might be other solutions." Theodor Stolojan is the only candidate running for Prime Minister who is not standing in the general elections.
In response to Traian Basescu's accusations against Viorel Hrebenciuc (leader of the Social Democratic parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies), Dan Voiculescu (founding president of the Conservative Party ally of the Social Democratic Party in this electoral campaign), Mircea Geoana and Calin Popescu Tariceanu of planning a coup d'état after the parliamentary elections, Viorel Hrebenciuc said that he was prepared to sit down and discuss matters with the Romanian President to "negotiate a coalition government between the Social Democratic Party and the National Liberal Party." This declaration which lends credit to the possible alliance between the two parties did not however receive the approval of the party in power.
"He who imagines that he will be able to form a government on his own is a dreamer," said the Vice President of the National Liberal Party and present Finance Minister Ludovic Orban on a live TV programme entitled "Elect the Prime Minister" on the TV channel Realitatea TV. In this programme he launched the idea of an alliance between his party and the Democratic Liberal Party saying: "I have always said that I preferred a government with the Democratic Liberal Party which even though it retains something of the Socialist International of which it was a longstanding member, remains on the right. With some of its members we succeeded in establishing a single income tax (established at 16% since January 1st 2005) and another series of measures that led Romania to economic growth." The hand extended to Traian Basescu's party is part of a new strategy on the part of the ruling party.
The Democratic Liberal Party seems tempted by this alliance. "I cannot rule out working with the National Liberal Party. We have had major differences in opinion with Calin Popescu Tariceanu but we have never had a problem with the party at grassroots level," declared the ruling party's Vice President, Gheorghe Flutur. A coalition between the National Liberal Party-Democratic Liberal Party leaves the question of who will take office as Prime Minister totally open.