Wednesday, December 9, 2009

WSJ Opinion: Recession Bad, Communism Worse in Romania

It appears that economic liberalism won a squeaker against the heirs to Nicolae Ceaucescu's Communists.

By the narrowest of margins Sunday, Romania seems to have returned incumbent President Traian Basescu to office. His leftist challenger Mircea Geoana is crying "fraud," and the results could yet be reviewed by Romania's courts. But for the moment, it appears that economic liberalism won a squeaker against heirs to Nicolae Ceaucescu's Communists.

Mr. Basescu's victory is all the more remarkable, as he had to overcome one of the worst downturns in Europe, with an economy shrinking 7% this year, after 7.1% growth in 2008. Mr. Geoana had sought to capitalize on the recent hardship by campaigning for a return to a progressive tax code—though he appears to have back-pedalled on that point—and a more-active role in the economy for the central government. We're told that the Social Democrat was the favored candidate in both Washington and Moscow.

Mr. Basescu, by contrast, has been pushing budget cuts and a clamp-down on corruption, and is a staunch defender of the country's 16% flat tax. As mayor of Bucharest, he withstood the ire of animal rights activists by putting the capital's people ahead of its biting stray dogs, many of which he wound up having killed.

Mr. Basescu's government has been far from perfect in addressing the country's ills, not least because the former ship captain is something of a magnet for political spats. But it seems that for slightly more than half of Romania's voters, the memory of communism and of a government whose hands reach into every pocket has left Romanians with an even more bitter taste. With politicians on more than one continent writing off economic freedom and singing the siren-song of a state that can provide for their needs, Mr. Basescu largely stood his ground—and won.

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