16/11/2009 - D-7 - 1st round
18 million Romanians are being called to ballot on 22nd November for the 1st round of the presidential election as well as for a referendum on the reform of Parliament. 21,207 polling stations will be open across the country for these two elections.
Several NGO's including Transparency International have protested against the referendum being on the same day as the first round of the presidential election. They believe that because two points on President Traian Basescu's political programme (establishing a unicameral Parliament and a decrease in the number of MPs) are being subjected to referendum this comprises an advantage for the outgoing Head of State in comparison with the other candidates. "I have not been able to modernize the Romanian State this is why I wanted to organise this referendum," declared the outgoing President. The popular consultation is only consultative. If the "yes" vote with regard to the two questions asked wins ("Do you agree with a unicameral Parliament?" and "Do you agree to a reduction in the number of MPs to a maximum of 300"), a constitutional reform will be necessary for these decisions to come into force.
Romanians living abroad will also be able to vote. Although many voted on the impeachment of the President on 19th May 2007 (75,000) few fulfilled their civic duty (14,300) during the most recent parliamentary elections on 28th November 2008.
12 people are running for the presidential office:
- Traian Basescu (Liberal Democratic Party, PD-L), outgoing President;
- Mircea Geoana, leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) since 2005 and President of the Senate;
- Sorin Oprescu, Mayor of Bucharest, former PSD member, a party he left in April 2008 after it refused to support him in the local elections which took place on 1st and 15th June 2008;
- Crin Antonescu, leader of the National Liberal Party (PNL);
- Kelemen Hunor, running for the Democratic Union of the Magyars of Romania (UDMR);
- Vadim Tudor Corneliu, candidate running for the Greater Romania Party, (PRM), far right;
- George Becali, a business man and owner of the Steaua Bucharest football club who is running for the New Generation Party (NGP);
- Constantin Ninel Potirca, businessman, running for the Rom community;
- Cristian Iane Ovidiu, running for the Ecologist Party;
- Remus Florinel Cernea, Green Party candidate;
- Constantin Rotaru, Socialist Alliance Party candidate;
- Manole Gheorge Eduard, is running as an independent.
16 people were refused permission to stand; these included Cornel Cernoschi of the Union of People who do not Vote and Nicolae Doru Popescu of the People's and Social Protection Party.
Outing President Traian Basescu is campaigning under the banner "My Romania" and his electoral programme focuses on 7 themes: confidence and values, the consolidation of the middle classes, solidarity with the most needy, economic effectiveness, improving competitiveness, the advantages provided by EU membership and the modernisation of agriculture and the State. The Head of State supports decentralization and a reduction in the bureaucratic system which he believes excessive. He hopes to maintain a single income and business tax rate of 16% (the rate practised since January 2005) but he said that he would be against an increase in VAT (whose rate has been at 19% since 2000) to fill the State coffers. With regard to foreign policy, the consolidation of his country's position in the EU and NATO, security in the Black Sea region and the possibility of turning Romania into a bridge between Europe and Central Asia are his main goals.
The outgoing President wants to undertake a second mandate as head of State to complete his work. "I think that I have not achieved my goal, Romania is still not a modern country. This is why I must be the one who keeps on track – this is one reason why I want to be re-elected," declared Traian Basescu adding, "I see the present economic crisis as a storm and I am the captain of an enormous vessel which bears the sacred name, Romania (nicknamed Popeye, Traian Basescu was indeed captain of a ship). This ship has a crew of 22 million and a captain who has a firm hand on the tiller. I am confident of the Romanian crew and believe that after the storm I shall bring it undamaged back to harbour. Have confidence in the captain." The outgoing President, who thinks he will run against Crin Antonescu in the second round said that he preferred to run against Mircea Geoana on 6th December next.
"One Romania" is the slogan of PSD candidate, Mircea Geoana who is focusing his campaign on five themes: economic recovery, winning back confidence in the State, the development of a social Romania, family and national dignity. "The recession is over in Germany and the USA but that does not mean this is so in Romania. This is why the Romanian President has to be appointed for his economic abilities and I have completed a thesis in international economics," declared Mircea Geoana. He wants to help young people more in their search for employment together with small businessmen – he also wants to bring the single income tax and company tax rate up to 20% for incomes over 3000 lei and create a differentiated VAT rate. He also wants to create a Romanian investment fund to protect economic sectors of national importance and establish a year-long moratorium on SME's reimbursement of their loans. On 24th October the Social Democrat leader recalled the importance of agriculture whose development he says is one of the solutions to the crisis experienced by Romania. Mircea Geoana received the support of the revolutionary organizations LORD on 26th October. This movement, which declares itself apolitical, says it wants to "rid Romania of the dictator Traian Basescu" as it fought against Communist dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu 20 years ago.
PNL leader Crin Antonescu focused his campaign on the international economic crisis, the reform of the State, education, national defence, justice and foreign policy. He hopes to adopt fiscal measures for SME's, and liberalise the banking and financial market to stimulate and optimise the circulation of capital. He wants a reduction down to 10% with regard to the single tax rate on income and businesses and down to 15% with regard to VAT. His programme bears the slogan "We have the power to change power". He said that his party was the only opposition party and the only rightwing movement in the country. Finally Crin Antonescu said on 8th November that if he is elected as President of the Republic he would not run for a second term in office and would leave political life after his five year term in office.
"We are poor because we have been badly governed, and this is because we have been governed by corrupt people who only think of their own interests," declared candidate, Sorin Oprescu. "Corruption exists because justice, the State institutions and the civil service are not functioning," said the Mayor Bucharest who is campaigning on the themes of security, justice, and the information services. Sorin Oprescu says that if he is President he would decrease both public debt and inflation and that he would allow citizens to take part in political life. "With your vote for an independent you will allow the country to live again," he said. With regard to foreign policy he hopes to improve Romania's relations with its neighbours i.e. Ukraine, Moldova, Russia and the Balkans.
Kelemen Hunor, the UDMR candidate, wants to reduce the single income and business tax rate by 13-14%, to fight against illegal work by exonerating SME's of certain taxes, reform the healthcare system as well as the country's main institutions (he is notably against the abolition of the Upper Chamber of Parliament). "I recently heard people say that I was honest but that it was a shame that I was Hungarian," said Kelemen Hunor. "Romania will be normal country when the Hungarians (who total around 1.4 million people in the country) and other people belonging to minorities will be thought of as citizens like everyone else and when being Hungarian does not make it impossible to become President," he added. He is asking for the cultural autonomy of the regions of Transylvania, Bucovina; Banat and Moldova which he hopes to see included in the Romanian Constitution. "We know which State we want to live in and what is really important for the Hungarian community - no one represents our interests better than ourselves. In any case to date no Romanian politician has ever done this," he stressed.
Remus Florinel Cernea, the Green Party candidate is standing as the only real response to the present political crisis experienced by the country. "I am committed to politics because I am deeply concerned about the present political body." He is asking that 10% of the GDP be devoted to education, research and culture. He reminded young people to turn out on 22nd November and maintains that a great number of votes in his support might force politicians to change their behaviour.
"In 2009 Romanians can choose between the past and the future and those who want to move forwards and not turn to the past can elect a man who has nothing to do with the past, someone dynamic and totally committed to the country's future," indicated Constantin Ninel Potirca adding, "I hope to win the votes of the Romanians, Hungarians, Roms and all of the citizens who demand more from the government and society."
Finally the Socialist Alliance Party candidate, Constantin Rotaru, indicated that he would dissolve Parliament if he won the election. "Democracy does not work in Romania or only superficially at least. We want to establish participative democracy and we shall dissolve Parliament to achieve our objective," declared Constantin Rotaru who is running as the candidate of the "real left".
The political crisis continues in Romania. On 1st October last the PSD chose to quit the government coalition led by Emil Boc (PD-L) which it formed with the PD-L, 12 days later the Parliament voted (254 votes in favour, 176 against) a motion of censure leading to the fall of the government. On 4th November Parliament refused to swear in the new government formed by Lucian Croitoru, appointed to this position by Traian Basescu on 15th October. This was the first time this had happened since the fall of the communist regime in 1989.
The International Monetary Fund (FMI) immediately declared that it was freezing the payment of the first package of financial aid totalling 1.5 billion € and that it was suspending the total measure of 20 billion € as long as no government has been formed. "We think that we can finish our observation of the economic situation rapidly ... once the political situation has been settled," declared Jeffrey Franks, leader of the IMF mission in Bucharest. The payment of a one billion € loan by the European Commission was also suspended.
Although the opposition parties continue to demand the appointment of Klaus Johannis as head of government (the Democratic Forum of Germans of Sibiu DFDH), Mayor of Sibiu (Transylvania) for the last 9 years and who has an excellent reputation as a manager – Traian Basescu appointed Liviu Negoita, Mayor of the 3rd district of Bucharest as Prime Minister on 6th November last. The Head of State who pointed out his disagreement with a government formed of technocrats and led by an independent Prime Minister justified his choice explaining that Liviu Negoita had been elected by 80% of the votes like Klaus Johannis and that he has proven his management capabilities. On 9th November the new Prime Minister presented his government comprising 14 members which is almost the same as that put forward by Lucian Croitoru except for three new faces.
The opposition parties have said that they will not take part in the swearing in of the new government. If the parliament again refuses its confidence to the Prime Minister the President will have to dissolve it within 60 days and convene new elections. The opposition is accusing Traian Basescu of refusing to appoint a Prime Minister who might be approved by Parliament and do everything to make the interim government last until the second round of the presidential election on 6th December in order to dissolve the Parliament afterwards. The presidential election should however make it clear which party voters think is responsible for the present political disorder. The decline of the outgoing head of State, Traian Basescu can be explained undoubtedly by his refusal to listen to the other political parties and this does not augur well.
According to a poll by the Social Research Company and the Branding Company (CCSB), 2/3 of voters fear that the presidential election will be marked by fraud. The Romanians are asking greater sanctions and the introduction of voting cards – they also want to make it obligatory to vote to counter this danger. A 25 strong mission belonging to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), led by Vadim Jdanovici will be present to monitor the democratic nature of the presidential election.
The most recent poll puts Traian Basescu in the lead in the 1st round with 34% of the vote followed by Mircea Geoana 30%, Crin Antonescu 18%, Sorin Oprescu 14%, Vadim Corneliu Tudor 3%, Kelemen Hunor and George Becali, 1% each. With 46% of the vote, Traian Basescu would be defeated in the 2nd round by Mircea Geoana who is due to win 54%. He would also be defeated by Crin Antonescu 49% to 51% and even Sorin Oprescu (with the same result). "Voters are for or against Basescu, not pro Geoana or pro Antonescu," analyses Mircea Kivu.