The Romanian elections scheduled for 26 November 2000 not only pose a real danger for the state of democratic reforms in Romania, but they also indicate the country's commitment to joining the European Union. Disappointed by the administration of the past four years, the Romanians seem to prefer the Left again. Most of the polls indicate that the left-leaning parties and the Communist leader Ion Iliescu are coming back and will return to power.
Return to the Left
Such a shift was already witnessed in the results of local elections earlier this year, when Iliescu's Party for Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) won 27 percent of the overall vote.
Iliescu would have insured his way to power if the current Romanian president, Emil Constantinescu, had not given up the presidential race. The people took it as an acknowledgment of the government's failure over the past four years.
Most of the candidates for the presidential elections remain anchored in the past, and their political programs are nothing more than a critique of previous governments. 99 percent of Iliescu's political program is targeted at the failures and pitfalls of Constantinescu's administration, giving the impression that his political platform is non-existent.
Candidates for president
Iliescu's public profile has maintained the same political mantra of the 1990s: "An ordinary man for people's needs." He cannot discard this Communist image. However, it worked twice before when he assumed the office of president in the 1990 and 1992 elections. Why should he stray from a message that has clearly benefited him?
Theodor Stolojan, the candidate of the National Liberal Party (PNL), is trying to get as many votes as possible by using an idea seemingly stolen from Iliescu's political vocabulary: "The situation in Romania was better before 1997."
Petre Roman, running for the presidency as a leader of the Democratic Party (PD), once associated with Ion Iliescu when he assumed the office of prime minister in 1990, grapples with the same ghosts. Currently the foreign minister in Constantinescu's coalition government, he has been linked to the economic depression during the past four years as well as to the mistakes of Iliescu's first term in office. Yet, he called his former colleague an "outdated Communist."
Theodor Meleşcanu, leader of the newly created Alliance for Romania Party (ApR), was also a member of the government during Iliescu's regime and a former member of Iliescu's party. He relies on a program referred to as "The Third Republic," which is a combination of various economic and political issues, many of them toying with populist themes. He also refers to the past when presenting his program.
Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the candidate of the nationalistic Greater Romania Party (PRM), has held onto the same aggressive tone of the chauvinism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia that his party has always stood for.
Gyorgy Frunda, nominated by the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), entered the elections only to raise the percentage vote for his party. The UDMR traditionally gains roughly seven percent of the vote, which is directly aligned to the percentage of Hungarians living in Romania. At present, the UDMR are members in the ruling coalition. In order to retain the same degree of involvement in the future governance of Romania, a candidate that appealed to a wider audience was deemed necessary. Frunda was chosen to fill this roll.
The only candidate able to defeat Iliescu is Mugur Isărescu. As the former governor of the Romanian National Bank, Isărescu has never directly been involved in any political party. Now the prime minister, he has never looked to the past, bringing the people a program that at first sight seems coherent and pragmatic. The six chapters in his program are: "middle class and economy," "the Romanian intelligentsia," "the new economy," "Romania's image in the world," "the village" and "the security of the citizen."
Victory for Iliescu?
However, according to recent opinion polls, Iliescu will get 35 percent of the votes, while the other six candidates are estimated to win between seven and 15 percent. These results point to two possible scenarios for the upcoming elections. Either Iliescu and his party will take all or Iliescu will lose, but his party will maintain control of the Parliament.
For Romania, the second case is the better of two bad solutions. It seems to be the same story as in 1996, when Iliescu lost only because the parties united against PDSR. In the local elections, these predictions proved correct. In Bucharest, in the first round, PDSR's candidate had 41 percent, while the other competitor received only 16 percent of the vote.
In a "normal" democracy, Isărescu would easily win. He has proven during this year that he can take the country out of the economic and political recession it is mired in. This is clear from a comparison of his governance with that of two other candidates, Roman and Stolojan, both former prime ministers. Between 1990 and 1992, when first Roman and then Stolojan led the government, Romania fell into a period of political isolationism. However, between 1999 and 2000, during Isărescu's office as prime minister, the country started its negotiations with the EU.
Moreover, Isărescu is the appropriate leader for negotiating a political coalition after the elections, because he is an independent politician, not suppressed or biased by internal party rules.
By and large, however, Romania has not experienced any marked improvement during the past two years. It is clear that Romanians feel Constantinescu's regime did not improve their economic situation. They also forgot that the Communists who ruled the country for six years ruined the economy completely prior to Constantinescu's victory in the 1996 elections. Therefore, a large part of the population is left to sink in the rotten populism that many of the candidates display. Nationalism, chauvinism, xenophobia—sentiments revived by the Communists—make the ordinary people feel comfortable in the isolationism which threatens to return to Romania. The slogan, "We don't sell the country" is more powerful than ever.
Instead of praising the initial efforts Romania has made towards joining the EU, the average Romanian citizen feels good listening once more to the demagogy of the Communists, whose promises were enshrined in their thoughts by the propaganda machine of the Leftists. Trying to avoid the question of EU accession, Iliescu said, "We will enter the EU, but only with dignity."
The Romanian people have a crucial decision to make in the coming November elections: whether to slip back to the Left and out of the European Union or to remain with the "in" crowd. Eventually Romanians can prove that they understand this dichotomy. They did it once before in 1996, when their vote stopped Communists from burying the country further in its miserable past.
Marius Dragomir, 6 October 2000
- Archive of articles on Romania in CER
- Browse through the CER eBookstore for electronic books
- Buy English-language books on Romania through CER
- Return to CER front page