Election fever is mounting. The date for the general elections was announced last week: 26 November 2000, and the official campaigns are set to begin 45 days in advance, on 12 October. Despite the recent announcement, electoral alliances have been the main topic of discussion for several weeks. Until now, the majority of discussions have been non-committal, but things are beginning to shape up.
On 1 September, the Democratic Convention of Romania 2000 (CDR 2000) was officially registered as a political alliance. The present CDR forms the coalition government. But recently, they have been hounded by inter-party squabbles weakening their political position.
CDR 2000 is an alliance of five parties: the National Christian Democratic Peasant Party (PNŢCD); the Union of Right-Wing Forces (UFD); the National Christian Democratic Alliance (ANCD); the Romanian Ecologist Federation (FER); and the Moldavian Party. Their policies will follow a centre-right line and they will continue to favour European Union integration. The parties of CDR 2000 endorse the presidential candidate, Mugur Isărescu, who is standing independently for the post.
The Romanian Social Democratic Party (PSDR) is speculated to merge with Ion Iliescu's Party for Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR). Iliescu doubts that any formal agreement can be reached before the elections, due to a shortage of time. However, this does not rule out an unofficial agreement.
Meanwhile, Teodor Melescanu's Alliance for Romania Party (ApR) is coming unstuck. Disagreements within the leadership have led Mugural Vintilă, Adrain Balanescu and Catalin Croitoru to found "The National Initiative for Romania," in an attempt to reunite current dissatisfied ApR members. Their departure has been accompanied by criticisms over a possible ApR-PDSR alliance. Melescanu now refutes any collaboration with Iliescu's party. At the same time, Melescanu has accused Isărescu of using public funds to benefit his own presidential campaign.
Presidential candidates are starting to make their moves. Three main contenders are becoming apparent: Ion Iliescu (PDSR); Theodor Stolojan backed by the National Liberal Party (PNL); and Mugur Isărescu standing as an independent but with support from CDR 2000. Iliescu has remained the front-runner but publicly he is being overshadowed by the revelation of President Emil Consantinescu's future resignation and Prime Minister Isărescu's decision to stand.
Stolojan, a former prime minister during Iliescu's administration, visited Obor market on Thursday 31 August to rally support. Accompanied by PNL Deputy Chairman Valeriu Stoica, a photographer and two bodyguards, he was met by a crowd of pensioners chanting "The Pensions! The Pensions!" After vague assurances of a pension rise in September, Stolojan was comforted by the odd heckle: "I will vote for you, Mr Stolojan!"
Three months on, the National Investment Fund (FNI) scandal continues. A parliamentary commission investigating the collapse of the FNI heard Premier Isărescu on Thursday, commenting that the fund was a "wide scope fraud" (Nine o'clock, 1 September 2000). In May, FNI, a unit trust company, closed its branches and suspended trading when investors, acting upon rumours of an imminent FNI collapse, began to make huge withdrawals. Warrants for the arrest of FNI President, Maria Vlas, and three of her senior executives were issued. Vlas fled the country and is now believed to be in Israel.
Repercussions of the fraud have reverberated through all sections of society, but discontent has now turned into frustration. On Thursday, the implicated savings bank, CEC, in a last-ditch attempt to delay their trial, spent three hours debating the issue of fairness as one thousand FNI investors protested outside the Bucharest Court of Appeal blaming the state that they would try "all kind of tricks" to delay the trial (Monitorul, 1 September 2000).
Bucharest Mayor Traian Băsescu has received death threats over his policy for dismantling illegal kiosks on Bucharest streets. The campaign began on Monday 21 August in an attempt to stamp out petty corruption and stop the mafia-style organization of the largely illegal industry. In the past, vendors have been content to line the pockets of officials in city hall in order to maintain their patch.
Kiosk owners have responded with violence and protest. Last week, in the Drumul Taberei sector of Bucharest, riot police were called in to calm the vendors during three days of clashes. Eventually, resigned to the fact that their businesses and livelihood had been lost, many stall owners began to assist the gendarmes in their clean-up campaign.
Băsescu now finds himself with a price on his head. Speaking on Wednesday 30 August, he said, "despite threats the campaign against illegal constructions will go on." He continued to say that a "well-organized mafia" is behind the illegal businesses (Central Europe Online, 1 September 2000).
However, Băsescu is not blameless. His heavy-handed approach and refusal of a time allowance for stall owners to get the correct paperwork has meant unnecessary hardships on people who are now left struggling in an economy that is suffocating them.
During the past week, Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica and Transport Minister Traian Remeş have been at the center of potential crisis. On Tuesday, Remeş accused the PNL of losing its liberal qualities and announced that he no longer recognized the party leadership. By Thursday, Remeş had dissolved his membership of the party, placing Premier Isărescu in an awkward position: should he dismiss Remeş from the government? The answer came from the PNL itself, who gallantly declared that they did not wish to throw the government into crisis and would therefore not call for the dismissal of Remeş.
Meanwhile, farther afield, news of armed pirates looting a Romanian cargo ship in the Bangladeshi port of Mongla has reached Romanian shores. This latest ordeal is one of many for the 220 sailors on the ship Ardeal. The ship, like many more Romanian vessels around the world, has been impounded in the Bangladeshi port as its owners fight bankruptcy.
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