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Choosing from two evils

Virginia MIRCEA

Once every four years, we are invited to take part, as helpless spectators, and then as apparent decision-makers, in the political ritual of the electoral campaign, in the elections game.

Although the law stipulates a certain period of time for the electoral campaign, the entire year 2004 appears to be under the sign of this autumn's elections, as voters find themselves in the awkward position of the spectators to a tennis game (rather mediocre, we should say), whose necks are stiffened after continuously turning right to left and back, to watch a game that started six-seven months ago. The consequence? An electorate increasingly resembling Caragiale's symbolic Intoxicated Citizen, wondering "And whom should I vote for?" - at least this is what polls seem to indicate, the error margin of which is upset by the high number of the undecided.
Nonetheless, it is not only the poor quality of the recently concluded electoral campaign which is to blame for the high number of the undecided, but also the performance of the main political players over the 15 years that have elapsed since the change in December 1989. Romanians' reasons for dissatisfaction are mainly related to the wide gap between expectations and actual living standards. Although social indices point to a rise in living standards compared to the early post-1989 period, Romanians' expectations have also gone up, which is why economic performances have to be utterly spectacular compared to the current situation, in order for the public institutions and implicitly the political class to enjoy a favourable image.  Another reason of disappointment comes from the perpetuation of the same characters in the political arena, from the fact that no changes have occurred at the top of the political class. Faces remain the same, regardless of the mutations in the public space. And new comers in the political arena appear to be mere copies of the old politicians that seem to have seized everlasting monopoly over the public space.
This year some change is nevertheless noticed at the top level of domestic politics, in the sense of mutations operated in the political community. Parties the line of which belonged rather in the past century, namely the Greater Romania Party (PRM) and PUNR, but also the Democrat Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), appear to lessen their role and influence. The evolution of such parties was long seen by political analysts as directly linked, in the sense that the former jointly account for only an artificial counterbalance to the latter. Whereas a shrinking support to PRM might indicate the Romanian electorate is recovering to democracy, the case of UDMR must be assessed against other elements, such as the emergence of radical groups of Hungarians in Romania, the rhetoric of which led to UDMR's losing part of the Hungarian minority's support.  On the one hand, UDMR has achieved many of its initial objectives, while on the other hand party officials are accused of having bargained with the Romanian ones to achieve their personal purposes rather than the group's.
Separately, Christian-Democracy, which has never been one of the major options of the Romanian voters (the success of the National Christian-Democrat Peasants Party - PNTCD - can be better accounted for by the excessive focus on individuals in the Romanian politics and by the fact that, at one moment in its history, this party managed to bring together individuals emblematic for the right-wing Romanians), is undergoing a significant crisis, as recent reorganisation attempts are irrelevant for the nearing elections.  Moreover, PNTCD was the main loser in the 1996-2000 mandate, which put it out of the political stage in the next mandate and is very likely to prevent it from entering the Parliament this autumn as well.
The main players in this autumn's political game therefore are the Social-Democrat Party (PSD), the National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Democrat Party (PD), the latter competing jointly under the "Justice and Truth Alliance" umbrella. Probably this almost bipolar aspect is the best explanation for the Romanian voters' disappointment. And not because options are very limited, but rather because a brief analysis of the recent history of the two parties' officials reveals that, at one time or another, all the current leaders have been in power. They have all been part of a political cooperative, be it FSN (for the Democrats and PSD, but also for some of the Liberals participating in the Stolojan governance) or CDR (for the Democrats and the Liberals). And, unfortunately for all of them, Romanians remember more than the main runners in this autumn's race would like them to.   Although the Liberals and Democrats managed to avoid assuming responsibility for the 1996-2000 mandate, not few are the voters who remember that incumbent Opposition leaders were holding key positions in the respective administration and shouldered some of the economic disaster this governance brought. Also, PSD's desperate efforts to change its image of corrupt, Mafia ring party cannot make up for the its having played host, for a long time, to individuals of dubious morals and history, from Corneliu Iacubov to Sechelariu or Mischie.
And, were we to add to all of the above a record of large scale illegal deals in which names of power and opposition parties are equally involved (Megapower, Rompetrol, Sidex etc), and the fact that for most political leaders ideology is a mere label on the packaging, Romanians' lack of interest in the political game is not only explicable, but quite the natural thing to do. In the end, we have to choose between two evils. And this is precisely why, in this autumn's elections, it is essential for us to make a sensible, rather than an emotional choice.  We must play the role of decision-makers in the political game, and not allow ourselves to be puppets manipulated by campaign advisers' populist messages. And probably it is more important than ever for us to ignore the already too aggressive campaign and vote for those concrete projects which benefit each of us.
Publicat în : English  de la numărul 18

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