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Media war against Basescu helps Geoana poll rise

Power does not have a predictable course in Romania. A year ago incumbent leader Traian Basescu looked as though he could win in the first round of this year’s Presidential vote, with the support of over 50 per cent of Romanians

November 2009 - From the Print Edition

But for this month’s vote there is a firm challenge in Social Democratic (PSD) leader Mircea Geoana. Romania has never voted in a President for two whole successive terms. The electorate is not loyal – so the field is open.
The media is against Basescu. Its market has changed in four years. Due to falling advertising revenues, tumbling sales and a collapse in the distribution network for the written press, the print media is no longer a directly influential player in elections. Newspapers seem to be no more than generators of stories, like news agencies, which are then picked up by TV networks.
Online media sees rising numbers among a vibrant and interactive clientele, but broadband in Romania reaches only 11 per cent of the people – the majority of whom are not interested in politics.
Therefore television is super-dominant and here Geoana is in the strongest position. The PSD is historically connected to the number one TV channel Pro TV, whose boss Adrian Sarbu has been close to the Social Democratic hierarchy since the time of the Revolution. The national TV network TVR is overseen by a PSD appointment and top TV channels Antena 1 and 3 are financed by Dan Voiculescu, former president of the Conservative Party (PC), a group which has embedded itself with the PSD to secure a place in Parliament over the last decade. Meanwhile the main news channel, Realitatea TV, is owned by controversial businessman Sorin Ovidiu Vantu, who has been accused of defrauding 130,000 Romanians in an investment fund scam in the late 1990s. Vantu and Basescu hate each other.
Basescu will hope that his own wit and communication skills can filter through the biased framework to make a direct connection with the public. But if television decides this Presidential election, it is Geoana’s to lose.
What is promising for Romania is that, despite the financial crisis, the country is not slipping into Fascism. All four main candidates, Basescu, Geoana, Bucharest mayor Sorin Oprescu and National Liberal (PNL) candidate Crin Antonescu, have a liberal sensibility. None of them are calling for a new recruitment drive for the Iron Guard, a repeal of the abortion laws or the nationalisation of factories. This is a proud moment for a nation prone to extremes.
But this year’s 19.95 billion Euro loan agreement with the EU, IMF and international financial institutions means that any leader will be forced to be pragmatic in spending. A management class will run Romania - regardless of whether there is a
Government of technocrats or politicians - or the nation risks bankruptcy.
But what could be sacrificed is judicial reform and the fight against graft. A scary fact in Geoana’s manifesto is the seeming absence of any mention of corruption – as though this problem has vanished in Romania. Meanwhile Antonescu isolates Parliament and Government as a crucible of all monstrosities in the country. He states that outside of politics, Romania is a land of people who are “correct, respect the law and fear God”. Such rhetoric implies there is nothing more to be done in Romania, just decapitate the man at the top and all will be well in this best of all possible worlds. Then the good public servants and fairminded businessmen can return to being honest and tremble at the majesty of God and his avenging angels - maybe because the only form of legal sanction that works in Romania is divine justice.

Michael Bird

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