Sunday, November 22, 2009

Romania Decides

It's election day in Romania; the nation's citizens are choosing their next President.  The election is being followed keenly in Moldova, partly as a result of the recent change of government in Chisinau.

The main choices are
  1. The incumbent, Traian Basescu, who is supported by the Democrat-Liberal Party (DLP)
  2. The leader of the main opposition Social Democrat Party (SDP), Mircea Geoana
  3. The leader of the National Liberal Party (PNL), Crin Antonescu
If it were just about domestic policy, then Crin Antonescu would win my vote hands-down.  The PNL-led government of 2005-06 was easily the best that Romania has had since the 1920s, and the PNL is the only party that has the sort of reformist policies that Romania needs to put itself permanently back on a high-growth track.

Unfortunately, for the purposes of this blog I also need to look at foreign policy and in particular what the candidate's election means for Moldova.  Here, the liberals have the weakest showing of all three main parties.  Historically they haven't paid much attention to the republic, and during the campaign their presence has been weak.  There is also still a whiff of the 'petro-liberalism' (and the rumoured ties to the big Russian energy corporations) which Basescu railed against a couple of years ago.

Geoana's team contains a lot of competent folks (e.g. former foreign minister Diaconescu), and Geoana himself looks the most 'Presidential' of the three.  In respect to Moldova the Social Democrats have been trying hard of late to improve their standing, rolling in heavy guns such as Titus Corlatean and Adrian Severin to make Moldova's case in Europe.  They have been making encouraging noises about citizenship and other issues.

The Social Democrats have a dark side, however.  The corrupt Adrian Nastase and the unreformed communist Iliescu still hover in the background, together with other dinosaurs such as Hrebenciuc and Vangelie.  The party's policies are old-fashioned socialism and statism, and will gradually choke the economy to death if given reign.

Basescu is, on paper, the most pro-Moldovan of the three.  He takes a lot of care to be seen as a protector of the "buni romani" that live on the other side of the Prut.  His opponents have, however, pointed out that Basescu is more smoke than fire on this one - how many Moldovans have actually received citizenship since the law was changed, for example?

Basescu's domestic record is quite poor, however.  On coming to power in 2004, he engineered a change of government from PSD to a PD-PNL-UDMR coalition, basically by coercing deputies to switch allegiance (although it has to be said that the PSD probably had a few more deputies than they deserved due to electoral fraud).  He then proceeded to systematically undermine the leadership of PNL prime minister Tariceanu, leading ultimately to the immasculated PNL minority government of 2007-08.  Following parliamentary elections in late 2008, a PD-L - PSD government was formed, and Basescu once more set about undermining it.  Put simply, Basescu has frequently overstepped his constitutional boundaries and has been singly responsible for the political instability of the past few years.

At the time of writing, (illegally leaked) exit polls put Basescu in the lead with Geoana in second and Antonescu clearly in third.  If these polls translate into official figures, we'll see a second round run-off between  Basescu and Geoana.

A good result for Moldova but terrible news for Romania.

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