Oct 15th 2009 | BUCHAREST
From The Economist print edition
Egos, not the stricken economy, are at the centre of Romanian politics
IT MAY have worked politically, but not on other fronts. Two weeks ago, Romania’s prime minister, Emil Boc, doomed his own government to collapse by ousting his interior minister, Dan Nica. The ostensible reason was that Mr Nica, who represents a junior partner in the coalition, had groundlessly alleged that a huge electoral fraud was being planned in the presidential election due on November 22nd. He did not name the supposed ballot-riggers. But this is a touchy issue. Romania’s president, Traian Basescu (a close ally of Mr Boc), won power in 2004 on the crest of an anti-corruption campaign. Since then some of his biggest supporters have become increasingly critical of his record.
Sacking Mr Nica was meant to force his Social Democratic party to quit the government, leaving a minority administration to be run by Mr Basescu’s supporters, the Liberal Democrats. That, cynics say, was meant to ensure that the interior ministry, which runs the election machinery, was in safe hands in the run-up to the poll. It may yet work. But the Social Democrats counter-attacked this week by ousting the government in Romania’s first successful no-confidence vote since the fall of communism. In one sense the vote, which took place on October 13th, was progress. Unlike in the 1990s the government’s removal did not involve miners rampaging violently through the streets of Bucharest.
The opposition parties, including Liberals and parties representing Hungarian and other ethnic minorities, make up two-thirds of parliament. They proposed their own, apolitical, candidate for prime minister, Klaus Johannis. An ethnic German, he has for the past nine years been the successful mayor of the Transylvanian town of Sibiu, one of the most attractive and best-run places in Romania.
That has boosted the credibility of the anti-Basescu camp, united only in their dislike of the president. But it has not so far dented the president’s popularity: he has a 13-point lead over his nearest rival in next month’s poll. This week Mr Basescu nominated Lucian Croitoru, a central-bank adviser, as prime minister. If parliament votes his nominee down, as seemed likely, the president can hang on and try again. He dismisses the opposition’s idea of a government of technocrats, saying that this belongs to the 1990s, and is just a cover for string-pulling politicians. For the moment, Mr Boc’s government remains in office as a caretaker administration.
Shenanigans around the conduct of the presidential election and uncertainty about the next government are distractions from Romania’s most pressing problems. The economy is forecast to shrink by around 8% this year. The IMF and European Union have bailed out the country to the tune of €20 billion ($30 billion). Romania has yet to implement the unpopular reforms that it agreed with the lenders. And it has also exasperated the EU by backsliding on promised improvements to the judiciary and legal system. Mr Basescu may have won the battle for his political survival for the time being. But he has not fulfilled his promises of modernising and cleaning up his country’s politics