Liberal Democrats and Revolution figurehead make gains in Euro elections
Romania’s European elections saw a victory against extremist politics and two new forces entering the political mainstream, pioneered by familiar historical figures.
The Democratic Party (PD) won almost 29 per cent of the votes, followed by the Social Democratic Party (PSD) with 23 per cent, while the governing National Liberal Party (PNL) came in third with 13 per cent.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democratic Party (PLD), headed by former Prime Minister Theodor Stolojan, a party created by Liberals who rebelled against PNL in 2006, gathered almost eight per cent of the votes.
The Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) reached fifth position with 5.5 per cent of the votes.
Also, independent candidate Laszlo Tokes received 3.4 per cent of the votes. Tokes is a Reformist pastor and a leading figure in triggering Romania’s 1989 anti-Communist Revolution in Timisoara. He will now take a seat in the European Parliament under special conditions for independent candidates.
Romania’s turnout of 29.4 per cent of the electorate was three per cent higher than the average for the Euro elections for the ten new EU member states who joined in 2004.
The fear was that the low turnout would help extremist populist and right wing parties into power. But the New Generation Party (PNG) and Greater Romania Party (PRM) failed to win enough votes to gain representation in Strasbourg. Vadim Tudor, president of PRM, has said he will resign from the Senate.
Instead, the low turnout gave gains to only the Hungarian minority, which picked up nine per cent of the total.
Romanian voters living in rural areas were more willing to vote by ten per cent than people in the cities. The 35 Romanian MEPs will have a mandate only until 2009, when European elections will be organised across the 27 EU member states.
Democrats merge to form new party
Following the European elections, the first and fourth largest parties in the vote will merge to form a new party, the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL)
The fusion of the Democratic Party (PD) and Liberal Democratic Party (PLD) is ahead of the local elections, due for Spring 2008 and the general elections towards the end of the same year.
This comes after a higher than expected score in the European Parliament (EP) elections by the PLD on 25 November, even though the party has only existed for one year.
The PLD was created in 2006 by a rebel group within the governing National Liberal Party (PNL), which did not approve of the Prime Minister's antagonistic attitude towards President Basescu.
The PLD is headed by Theodor Stolojan, a former Prime Minister between 1991 and 1992 under President Ion Iliescu. The merger comes after a better-than-expected showing in the EP elections, where the PLD scored eight per cent of the vote against the PD's 29 per cent.
Many analysts believe President Basescu, the former president of the PD and a friend of Stolojan, was the key catalyst for this sudden merger.
The former president of the Democrats, Emil Boc, will also be the leader of the new party. Stolojan and Vasile Blaga, the PD's former Minister of Interior, will be vice-presidents.
To unite the two parties had no other alternative than to merge. An alliance between them is not possible because, on paper, the PD is still sharing a political alliance with the National Liberal Party (PNL).
If the PD wanted to make an alliance with PLD, the Democrats would have needed to ask for the PNL's permission.
This was a request they did not, it seems, bother to make.
President Basescu’s referendum to change the electoral system to a British-style representative democracy has won backing from 81 per cent of voters. However, because only 26.5 per cent of the population voted in the referendum, the result is invalid.
Only 16.2 per cent of those voting disagreed with the President’s change from a proportional to a ‘uninominal’ system, where the electorate votes for a member of Parliament for an individual constituency, rather than a list of candidates.
Prime Minister Tariceanu, Conservative party leader Dan Voiculescu, and president of PRM Corneliu Vadim Tudor, chose to boycott the referendum. But Mircea Geoana, president of the Social Democrat Party (PSD), voted for the proposal.
“Romanians no matter which party they favour have declared themselves for the reforming of the political class,” said Basescu.
If more than 51 per cent of the electorate had voted, the referendum would have been declared valid.
Following a trend in crime instigated by Romanians in Italy, Romano Prodi’s Government has issued an emergency law to ease the deportation of foreigners who cannot prove they have a home or a job in the country.
This law contradicts a European directive saying that people must receive a warning a month before expulsion. It also denies the accused the right to an appeal.
Romanians of Roma ethnicity living in camps at the outskirts of the big cities were first to be targeted by the Italian police. In only two weeks, the Italian authorities signed 177 orders to expel Romanians.
The Government in Rome has asked Romanian authorities for help in keeping their own citizens, especially ethnic Romas, inside the country.
This decision came after the death of an Italian woman, mugged and killed in Rome allegedly by a Romanian of Roma descent at the end of last October. The Italian police managed to identify and immediately catch the accused assailant.
This incident followed a massive increase in crimes committed by Romanians living in Italy.
In November, many Romanians living in Italy have faced murder and assault. Investigations into these cases are pending.
Meanwhile, the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, told Italian daily La Repubblica that Italy has never demanded European funds for programmes aiming at the integration of the Roma community.
He also criticised Italian authorities for allowing the Roma to build illegal camps at the edge of large cities. Such camps do not exist in Romania.
Top corruption cases delayed due to
new procedures from highest courts
Romania’s High Court and Constitutional Court are cancelling cases into high-level corruption due to new procedural decisions.
The Constitutional Court has decided that the president’s approval is necessary to start a criminal investigation into former ministers as well as current ministers.
This means the ongoing trial into alleged bribery involving former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase ends because it does not have Presidential approval. The investigation will now have to start from the beginning again.
The same applies to Serban Mihailescu, former general secretary of the Government, accused of bribe-taking.
Another decision of the Constitutional Court relates to allowing a defendant’s lawyer to be part of the entire criminal investigation into the suspect.
Because ongoing cases did not involve the suspects’ lawyers during the process, all could return to the prosecutors. This will happen when the accused make a request to the High Court.
Deadly bird flu confirmed in Danube Delta
Romanian authorities have confirmed a case of highly-contagious avian flu in Murighiol, Tulcea county in the Danube Delta. The H5N1 virus, deadly to humans, was detected following mass deaths in a backyard brood of hens and ducks. Samples have been sent to the European Community Reference Laboratory in Weybridge, UK for further testing. All remaining birds on the holding, 56 chickens and 24 ducks, were killed and a three kilometre protection zone set up.
Doctors and judges vanish
Romania’s skills shortage is extending from engineers and construction workers to doctors, nurses and magistrates. More than half of Romania’s hospital managers have stated they have large problems with the migration of staff abroad, according to a survey conducted by Solidaritatea Sanitara, a federation in co-operation with the Ministry of Health. In 2007 almost 340 doctors and 1,800 nurses left Romania to work abroad. According to the Superior Council of Magistracy (CSM), the Romanian justice system has seen a deficit of judges and prosecutors for three years. “Efforts are being made to cover the need of magistrates,” says Cecilia Morariu, spokeswoman for the CSM. At present, there are 372 vacant positions for judges and 572 vacancies for prosecutors.
Green light to investigate ministers
Cases brought against eight current and former ministers have been unblocked after two months of delays. Following a legal war between the President and the Minister of Justice over who can approve such investigations, the Constitutional Court has decided that the President can approve criminal investigations into ministers. This means the Anti-Corruption Department and the General Prosecutor’s Office can investigate cases against Minister of Justice Tudor Chiuariu, Minister of Labour Paul Pacuraru and ex-Prime Minister Adrian Nastase.
Traffic police: perceived as most corrupt
Traffic police are perceived as the most corrupt department in the Ministry of Interior and Administrative Reform, a survey conducted by Insomar shows. Second on the list is the Customs Police. Around 80 per cent of Romanians consider that corruption has grown or remained the same since Romania joined the EU. Of those surveyed, 41 per cent said they have offered small gifts to employees of different state institutions.
target for closure
Indications are increasing that the Government intends to dissolve the National Anti-corruption Department (DNA), the only institution in Romania fighting against high-level corruption. President Basescu has asked Prime Minister Tariceanu not to dismantle DNA, because this could trigger the European Commission’s safeguard clause on justice – a humiliating decision for Romania which means the EU would disregard its judgements. Also former Minister of Justice Monica Macovei told Realitatea TV that the Government intends to dissolve DNA by uniting it with two other institutions. Minister of Justice Tudor Chiuariu has called the President’s accusations an “intoxication”.
Parliament obstructs prosecutor rights
Prosecutors will no longer be able to tap phone lines of potential criminals without informing the accused party first, under new laws passed by the Parliament in controversial modifications to the Criminal Code and the Code for Criminal Proceedings. President Basescu has not approved the new bills and sent them back to the MPs for new modifications, stating they would help politicians incriminated in high-level corruption cases to escape from justice. The laws also take away the prosecutors’ rights to search homes and forbid prosecutors from staying more than six months on a case.