26/10/2009 - Analysis - 1st round
Set at the end of August, the 1st round of the Romanian presidential election will take place on 22nd November and the 2nd on 6th December. Since in order to be elected in the first round a candidate has to win more than half of the votes of those registered and that the average turnout in this election only just rises above 50% the next President of the Republic of Romania will probably not be elected before 6th December next.
Romanians living abroad will be able to fulfil their civic duty in 294 polling stations i.e. +100 in comparison with the previous presidential election on 28th November and 12th December 2004. The official campaign started on 22nd October.
A country severely affected by the economic crisis.
Romania is being severely affected by the international economic crisis. After 10 years of exceptional growth the GDP which reached 7.1% in 2008 is due to contract by 7.5% in 2009 (and by 1% the following year). The public deficit is due to reach 7.3% of the GDP and the unemployment rate 7.5% of the working population by the end of 2009.
In an attempt to manage the economic crisis as best possible Romania signed an agreement with the IMF. The international organization (together with the World Bank and the EU) committed to provide a loan of 20 billion euros to Bucharest under certain conditions, (including the reduction of public spending to a total of 0.8% of the GDP). Romania has received two lots of 6.5 billion € so far and is due to receive the rest before the end of the year. "We are expecting the Romanian authorities to continue their work to reach the goals set. This wager is far from being won,
" said Tony Lybek the IMF representative in Romania.
On 5th October 750,000 Romanian civil servants launched a one day national strike. This social movement was the biggest in the country since the fall of Communism in 1989. Civil servants demonstrated against the approval of the law on the freezing of wages in the civil service (that plans for all civil servants to be sent on unpaid leave for one ten day period per year) and they demanded the increase of the minimum salary, which lies at 145€ at present, to 170€ in 2010. Prior to this strike judges also stopped work for several weeks and there was a demonstration by the police forces in protest against a lack of financial means. The National Police Union (SNPPC) also said that police forces would refuse to work on 22nd November and 6th December if they were not paid overtime for this task. Outgoing President Traian Basescu (Democratic Liberal Party, PD-L) suggested that the unions sign a moratorium to avoid any movement of protest over the next few months. Dumitru Costin, chair of the National Union Bloc rejected this outright.
Given the economic situation the government is obliged to implement a policy of rigour together with unpopular reforms. And given the great poverty in which some of the population lives the implementation of an austerity policy is equal to political suicide just one month before the presidential election.
The Fall of the Government Coalition
For the last parliamentary elections on 28th November 2008 the Romanian government was formed by the PD-L and the Social Democratic Party (PSD). This atypical coalition was led by Emil Boc (PD-L). The economic pressure placed on the government explains for the most part the reasons why on 1st October the PSD chose to leave the government coalition. Officially it justified its decision saying it was protesting against the dismissal of one of its members, Dan Nica, Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. The latter insinuated that the PD-L was preparing fraudulent acts in view of the presidential election by renting out buses to transport voters from one polling station to another (the practice of multiple voting has not disappeared in Romania). The Head of Government Emil Boc said he was dissatisfied with Dan Nica's work accusing him of causing a rise in crime and worsening citizens' security. "Delinquency rates have risen 13% in comparison with last year, notably with an unprecedented rise in violent theft and bank robberies,
" said the Prime Minister.
The collapse of the government coalition was not a surprise since the PD-L and PSD alliance was really unnatural. In addition to this the PSD had every interest to quit power some weeks before the presidential election in order to position itself in the opposition camp and to be able to protest against the government's austerity policy. "This economic crisis is now theirs,
" declared Dan Nica after the PSD withdrawal.
On 13th October the Romanian Parliament approved (254 votes in favour, 176 against) a motion of censure leading to the fall of the government. This vote was an all time first in Romania's history. "It is an honour for a government to fall whilst it is promoting a reform to cancel privileges,
" declared Prime Minister Emil Boc after the vote. He was alluding to the reform of the retirement pension system that aimed to remove existing discrepancies between average and luxury pensions which some take advantage of. "The government I lead had the courage to do this for the good of Romanians,
" he said (i.e. reducing public spending and encouraging investments). He called on MPs to put national interest above that of their political party: "If Romania finds itself short of money to pay pensions and salaries in the public sector it will be your responsibility.
The National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Democratic Union of Magyars of Romania (UDMR) are the two parties which started the motion. They were joined by the PSD which previously approved the budgetary austerity law but which accused Emil Boc of having set in place an illegitimate government formed only with PD-L ministers after the defection of the PSD ministers.
"My goal is to limit the period of political crisis as far as possible given that an agreement will be found with the parties,
" declared Traian Basescu after the vote of the motion of censure. The Romanian Constitution prohibits the dissolution of Parliament in the 6 last months of the mandate of the President of the Republic. The fall of the government came at the worst possible time for Romania. It may increase pressure on the national currency and lead to a rise in interest rates.
On 15th October during a televised speech the Head of State appointed economist Lucian Croitoru as the new Prime Minister, an appointment that was challenged by the three opposition parties (PSD, PNL and the UDMR) which had put forward the Mayor of Sibiu, Klaus Johannis (Democratic Forum of Germans of Sibiu, DFDH) who enjoys a reputation as an excellent manager. The three parties recalled that they had 65% of the seats in Parliament. "I am the candidate of the parliamentary majority,
" declared Klaus Johannis. "The President of the Republic is taking country towards chaos. This appointment is a political bluff and an irresponsible act,
" declared Mircea Geoana, PSD leader and candidate in the presidential election. He accused the outgoing president of trying to control access to financial resources and to influence the results of the presidential election. "The President's decision is irresponsible from a political point of view,
" said Crin Antonescu, PNL leader and candidate in the presidential election.
52 year old Lucian Croitoru is the present advisor to the governor of the Central Bank of Romania, Mugur Isarescu and was the country's representative with the IMF from 2003 to 2007. He has ten days to form a government and win Parliament's approval. If the latter twice refuses him its confidence the Romanian president will have to dissolve parliament within 60 days and convene new parliamentary elections. Traian Basescu has said that he would like to see all of the political parties represented in the next government.
With the appointment of Lucian Croitoru Traian Basescu is trying to reassure foreign lending bodies (Lucian Croitoru was one of the negotiators of the 20 billion € loan given to Romania by the IMF). "The worsening political situation is starting to have economic effects. I am calling on all parties to understand that Romania needs an efficient government rapidly,
" he declared saying that the country "was in danger of finding it impossible to pay wages and pensions.
" On his appointment Lucian Croitoru re-iterated the need for the establishment of an austerity policy and the reduction of public spending to fall in line with the Maastricht criteria. The next IMF mission will take place in Romania from 28th October to 9th November.
With this appointment President Basescu is blaming the crisis on the opposition forces. "I do not think that the parties will accept a government led by Lucian Croitoru to be in charge of organizing the next presidential election,
" stresses political analyst Stelian Tanase. "The settlement of the crisis will only come when we know the result of the presidential election,
" declared Ioan Stanomir, Political Science Professor at the University of Bucharest. "The new President will choose a Prime Minister and Romania will have a stable government again in December or January next,
" stresses political analyst Cristian Parvulescu.
The Romanian President of the Republic is elected for 5 years (since the constitutional reform of 2004, the election of the Head of State is dissociated from that of parliament). Any candidate running for the supreme office must be at least 35 years old and deliver a list of at least 200,000 voters' signatures in support of his candidature. He must also swear that he did not work with the Securitate Services, the Romanian secret police, under the Communist regime.
The Head of State has limited powers. He appoints the Prime Minister after "consultation with the party that has the absolute majority in parliament or if there is no majority with the parties represented in Parliament,
" (article 103-1 of the Constitution) and he cannot dismiss the PM.
Romania has a bicameral Parliament renewed every 4 years. The Upper Chamber, the Senate, has 143 members and the lower Chamber, the Chamber of Representatives (Camera deputator), 346. The national minorities (Roms, Germans, Armenians, Italians, Croats, Albanians, Serbs etc ...) have a number of seats reserved specifically for them at the Chamber of Deputies (18). Since 2008 MPs are elected in 41 constituencies in a mixed majority system.
12 people are officially running for the presidential office:
- Traian Basescu (PDL), outgoing President;
- Mircea Geoana, PSD leader since 2005 and President of the Senate;
- Sorin Oprescu, Mayor of Bucharest, former PSD member;
- Crin Antonescu, PNL leader;
- Hunor Kelemen (UDMR);
- Vadim Tudor Corneliu, Greater Romania Party candidate (PRM) (far right);
- George Becali, businessman and owner of the football club Steaua Bucharest, candidate for the New Generation Party (PNG);
- Constantin Ninel Potirca, businessman, candidate running for the Rom community;
- Iane Ovidiu Cristian, Ecologist Party candidate
- Cernea Remus Florinel, Green Party candidate;
- Rotaru Constantin, Socialist Alliance Party candidate;
- Manole Gheorge Eduard, running as an independent.
Radu Duda, son-in-law of the former King of Romania, Michel 1er who was forced to abdicate by the Communists announced that he was running on 9th April before withdrawing on 2nd September. The husband of Margareta, the King's eldest daughter announced that he would support Crin Antonescu.
"The best means for a President of the Republic to see the results of his work is to stand again before the electorate,
" says Traian Basescu. The outgoing Head of State said on several occasions that his decision whether to run or not was conditioned by the country's economic situation and that he would have been a coward not to run for a second term in office."
Mircea Geoana's electoral programme focuses on social issues: "As President of the Republic I want to give our young people the chance of working in their country.
" He said he wanted to develop the agricultural and industrial sectors as well as the country's infrastructures. "I only want one Romania and a Romania at work. I want to give a new chance to Romanian industry
" he stresses.
The candidature of Sorin Oprescu complicates matters somewhat for all of the candidates but especially for the PSD. The Mayor of Bucharest who is running as an independent may, according to the polls, win many votes from people who no longer trust the political parties. "I am an independent candidate without the slightest obligation towards any party and am determined to represent all Romanians whatever their ideology,
" he said.
A Referendum together with the Presidential Election
President Traian Basescu wants to organise a referendum on the reform of Parliament on the same day as the first round. His aim is to establish a single list voting system (it is mixed at present), to abolish the Senate and to reduce the number of members of the Lower Chamber down from 489 to 300 (220 would be an ideal number but he says he is ready to discuss this with all political parties). He likes to recall that the Congress of the USA, a country with 300 million inhabitants has 525 representatives against 489 in Romania which only has 22 million inhabitants. The Head of State believes that a unicameral parliament would be more efficient and that the reduction of the number of MPs would lead to significant savings (an MP costs the State 10,000€/month).
On 14th October the Parliamentary Committee issued (18 votes against 12) a negative opinion on this referendum. Traian Basescu indicated prior to this that he would not hesitate riding over this opinion since this was only of consultative value. On 21st October the three opposition parties voted against the referendum. The Head of State said that if the Romanians accepted his suggestion to reform Parliament he would organize another referendum on the modification of the Constitution together with new elections. In Romania only the President of the Republic or one quarter of the MPs can initiate a revision of the fundamental law.
"Do you agree with a unicameral Parliament?
" and "Do you agree to a reduction in the number of parliamentarians to a maximum of 300?
" will be the two questions asked of the Romanians on 22nd November.
The fact that the two main candidates – Traian Basescu and Mircea Geoana – come from parties that have governed in coalition for nearly one year is making the campaign an atypical one. It is difficult for them to protest against the measures they have taken or the choices they made together. As a result of this each side is trying to discredit the other by undertaking an aggressive campaign.
Whilst the outgoing President has been in the lead in the polls for the last few months the latest survey undertaken mid-October by INSOMAR for TV channel Realitatea reveals that the race will be a much closer one. Mircea Geoana is due to 30% of the vote in the first round and Traian Basescu 29%, Crin Antonescu is due to win 20%, Sorin Oprescu and Corneliu Vadim Tudor, 8% each, Hunor Kelemen, 4% and George Becali, 3%. This poll shows that the President would be beaten in the 2nd round by Mircea Geoana who is due to win 54% of the vote. One third of Romanians (33%) believe however that Traian Basescu will win the next presidential election.
Source : Romanian Central Electoral Bureau