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Local elections, a twist in the ballot tale


The stake of the June 6 elections is the highest of all local ballots in the past 14 years due to the current political circumstances. The existence of a State-party, the ruling Social Democrat Party (PSD), which cannot refrain from daily breaking the law, and weakness of public institutions, unable to sanction any type of law violation when it comes to PSD, can once more question the country's meeting political criteria for accession to the European Union. In spite of Adrian Nastase's social-democrats domination, it becomes clear that there still is a democratic alternative to the incumbent Power: the PNL-PD Alliance for Justice and Truth (acronym DA). Although in three years of governance PSD has come to have 80% of the elected mayors, by forcing them into the ruling party, PSD leaders do not forget that in local elections back in 2000, they only won about 28%.

The third political competitor, Greater Romania Party (PRM), a party which many see as archaic for the third millennium, although after Parliamentary elections in 2000 it was the big surprise, coming in second after PSD, is now continuously dropping in polls. The remaining parties are fretting below the electoral threshold, the 5 percent needed in order to have members in local, municipal or county councils or for entering the Parliament being objectives difficult to reach, except for the Magyar minority's representatives, the Democratic Union of Magyars in Romania (UDMR) and the Romanian Humanist Party (PUR).
After three years of ruling in a Phanariot-like manner, witnessing the development of an all-encompassing corruption which impoverished millions of Romanian citizens and prevented the creation of a normal, democratic society which all citizens were hoping for, the leaders of the ruling party are becoming aware that elections are not won before being organised.
For three years, with the direct support of both the public and private TV stations (the latter strictly under political control, through the economic blackmail exercised by the Government) and with the support of most of the political analysts, sociologists and public opinion research institutions, PSD leaders headed by Adrian Nastase led the 20 million inhabitants of Romania into thinking that the ruling party is invincible and eternal.  And that another political force would stand no chance of overpowering them. Their success would have been almost ensured, had the PSD leaders, from Bucharest to the last local baron, not been living in a parallel Romania, created by themselves for themselves, far away from the real world in which the others survive.  The arrogance of PSD leaders and their pleasure in imagining that all human kind is humbly bowing whenever they pass, in their official headlight-and-buzzer cars was not even touched by the criticism of the written media journalists, about the only sector which the ruling party did not manage to control. To the written press added the highly critical voice of European Union officials, in particular of European MPs who three months ago asked for suspension of accession negotiations with Romania, on account of the deliberate inefficiency of the PSD governance in meeting European requests.
European integration takes unpaid leave
One-month-old opinion polls presented data which suggest a change of the current political formula is possible. What seemed unimaginable one year ago appears to be possible now. The voting intention spread between the PSD and the DA Alliance is 8-10% at most. At a regional level, figures vary: according to sociologic research, Transilvania and Banat, the richest and most educated regions in Romania intend to vote for representatives of the DA Alliance. Moldova and Oltenia, economically underdeveloped regions, old jurisdictions of the ruling party barons, seem to save their votes for PSD, as the generally poor population in the region have an attitude of socially assisted class. PSD's domination is nonetheless discontinuous in the two regions as well: Iasi, Moldova's capital city, has never had a mayor elected from the current majority party. At present, competing for the Iasi City Hall are, with relatively fair chances, the PSD and the PD candidates. The Town Hall of Piatra-Neamț is likely to be taken over from PSD by the Liberal candidate, notorious Gheorghe Ștefan (football club owner). Again, for the City Hall of Craiova, Oltenia's capital city, the main runners are the PSD and PD candidates.
Bucharest, capital city of Romania, is not only the small scale image of the whole country, but also reflects best the capacities of the two top political sides: PSD and the DA Alliance.  Bucharest's Mayor General, Traian B?sescu, chairman of PD and co-chairman of the DA Alliance, seems invincible. Until one month ago, PSD leaders had given up the attempts to win over the city, apparently resigned with the Bucharesters' unwillingness to ever vote for them. The relaunch of the battle over the Bucharest Mayor General seat, by PSD's launching in the electoral race of the charismatic Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mircea Geoan?, was thought up by the President of Romania, Ion Iliescu. Founder of the current ruling party, Iliescu was considerably involved, despite Romanian Constitution provisions, in the electoral campaign in favour of his brainchild, PSD (the Head of State has no children). Aware that, starting December 2004, after the end of the presidential mandate he would return at the PSD helm, Iliescu couldn't bear the thought of his brainchild risking modest results in the local elections, in particular in Bucharest. Moreover, an electoral failure of PSD in the Capital would seriously affect the party's chances to win both the presidential elections in November 2004 (running will be the incumbent Premier, Adrian Năstase, who dares not yet announce his intention precisely because he is aware of the frailty of electoral poll figures), and in the parliamentary elections. In addition, PSD is worn by violent battles for power among the rich in the party, senior Ministers and MPs, all the more since, at the end of their mandate, they all try to pull their last tricks.  Differences between them affected the PSD - Bucharest branch, led by the powerful Minister of Economy and Commerce, Dan Ioan Popescu, deputy chairman of the party, whose top priority Governmental concern should have been the privatisation of Petrom. However, the company has been feeding several other local barons of the party, backed by another senior deputy chairman of PSD. Their businesses upset by the need to withdraw from dubious contracts with Petrom, PSD members in the so-called "Moldova group" began to indirectly sabotage the political activity of the head of the Bucharest branch, by exposing the corruption deeds of the District 5 PSD Mayor Marian Vanghelie, taking the chance that this way the party's results in elections would be affected. The Minister of Economy works closely Ion Iliescu, and so does Foreign Minister Mircea Geoan?. It was the moment Iliescu stepped in. Early in the morning of May 1, he called the two to Cotroceni Palace and told them his decision: the party's initial candidate Bogdan Niculescu Duvăz is out, Geoană will run for Bucharest Mayor General. And he does this in order to gain more votes for PSD in District City Halls and in the Bucharest City General Council, but also to give a chance to the leader of the Bucharest branch, Minister Popescu, to avoid a severe political defeat which would affect his party career and his dream of becoming the next Premier in case PSD wins parliamentary elections in November 2004. Thus, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mircea Geoană was assigned by PSD and Ion Iliescu the task of ensuring the party integration into Bucharest, instead of continuing his work for the integration of Romania to the EU. Geoana's entering the electoral race for the City Hall, only concocted in order to block a complete success of the DA Alliance in Bucharest stands proof of the fear of PSD leaders that they could actually lose the elections. Mircea Geoană stands good chances of making it to the second ballot with Traian Băsescu, DA Alliance's candidate, yet his success is doubted. He started off on the wrong foot, with nonchalant violations of the Education Law and the Local Elections Law which ban electoral campaigns in schools. Insistence of PSD's strategy planners of walking Geoană only in front of pupils, and avoiding the population, is tale-telling of another concern: the fear of being ignored or criticised by voters. If PSD strategists did not even dare to bring this a pleasant person with a positive image capital out among the people, it comes as no surprise that all mega-launches of party candidates in local elections, in which Premier Adrian Năstase acts as a TV host, were only held behind closed doors, far away from the voters, yet in front of cameras, and with pupils brought in as passive audience. The same emergency formula was applied by the ruling party in the case of the Cluj City Hall, where the initial candidate, the sub-prefect was withdrawn at the last moment and the Minister of Home Affairs Ioan Rus was thrown into the battle. With the sole purpose of not letting Cluj in the hand of the locals' favourite, DA candidate Emil Boc. For the Government and for PSD, the fact that Minister Rus must close the most difficult negotiation chapter with the EU has little importance. Romanians can wait for PSD to be willing to take care of the EU accession, what matters now is for the party to win the elections. To save appearances, the two Minister-candidates, Geoană and Rus announced they had taken an unpaid leave from the Government during the elections, and with them Romania's EU integration has also taken a few weeks off. Dozens of electoral strategists, be they American, European or Romanian, handsomely paid by PSD leaders so as not to let them lose to the PNL-PD Alliance which only hired one domestic specialised company, have not even managed to impose the blitz-campaign that they had planned for Geoană, in Bucharest. The heaviness and heterogeneous nature of the PSD electoral staff allowed the DA Alliance's strategists, outnumbered yet more dynamic, to "steal" the surprise-poster. Thus, before Geoană made his appearance on the huge panels ordered by PSD throughout the capital city, the message was taken over by ... Băsescu, this poorly devised "business" losing the ruling party over one million US dollars!

National anti-PSD coalition

This electoral year's surprise is PUR, a tiny party the only quality of which so far was the ownership of the strongest media holding in Romania, made up of a national TV station, Antena 1, a central daily, "Jurnalul Național" and a radio station. PUR got into the Parliament after the 2000 elections on the lists of the current ruling party, which they abandoned when the PUR chairman, Dan Voiculescu, disgruntled with not having received what the PSD leaders had promised, decided to play the game on his own. In a blink, he brought the famous American strategist Dick Morris who launched an original electoral campaign meant to get voters familiar with the PUR brand: the party launched in the electoral race in Bucharest seven women - actresses, TV stars, business women. Mission accomplished. Dick is worth the millions of US dollars. PUR has become visible due to the surprise element, famous women in the electoral race, as well as to the media force owned by the party. PUR does not intend to win a Mayor seat, although it seems to have chances, Voiculescu's purpose being to exceed the 5% electoral threshold which allows the party to access local councils and the Parliament.
UDMR, after 14 years of existence and a constant electoral score of about 7%, is now struggling to reach the needed 5%. The co-operation and political support generously offered by the Union's leaders to PSD for advantages of a personal nature often led to sharp disagreements within UDMR, as part of the members set up a parallel party. Moreover, the Magyar voters no longer obey their leaders mechanically. For instance, in the city of Cluj, they are not interested in voting for the PSD candidate, as the UDMR leaders urged them, but voiced their support to the DA Alliance candidate. 
While PSD hired, among other electoral strategists, the American advertising agency Greenberg-Carville-Schrumm with its Tall Zilberstein, PRM closed an equally expensive contract with the Israeli company Arad Communication headed by strategist Eyal Arad. Paradoxically, although advised by a specialist in electoral strategies, for PRM polls doubtful as they might be, bring negative figures. C. V. Tudor's party is dropping constantly, the presence on the Bucharest electoral race of football official Dumitru Dragomir being an attempt, just like in PSD's case, to raise the party's score in the capital city. On the other hand, outside Bucharest PRM managed to get rid of the extremist party label originating with the party chairman, C.V.Tudor, and to sign co-operation alliances with other political parties, in particular with DA Alliance representatives, against PSD. In fact this is the main feature of this year's local elections: the unexpected rally of all parties against PSD, in extremis co-operation of the political community to reject the totalitarianism practiced by the ruling party stands proof that democracy in Romania is in danger.

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Institutul de Proiecte pentru Inovatie si Dezvoltare The National Centre for Sustainable Development