Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Romania's political rights rating declined from 2 to 3 due to flaws in the first round of the presidential and parliamentary election process.
Romania held parliamentary elections in November 2004. Despite allegations of fraud, the results were accepted by the electoral bureau. The first round of presidential elections were held as well; a run-off was scheduled for December between Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and opposition candidate Traian Basescu.
Throughout the latter half of the Cold War, Romania was ruled by Nicolae Ceaucescu, one of Eastern Europe's most repressive dictators, with virtually no opposition. In late 1989, popular dissatisfaction with Ceaucescu's rule led to his overthrow and execution by disgruntled Communists. A provisional government was formed under Ion Iliescu, a high-ranking Communist and the leader of the National Salvation Front (NSF). The 1992 parliamentary elections saw the NSF split into neo-Communist and reformist factions. In November 1996, Emil Constantinescu of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) defeated Iliescu in presidential elections. However, the CDR too was prone to considerable instability and lack of unity.
In the November 2000 parliamentary elections, the former Communist Party, renamed the Party of Social Democracy (PSD), won 65 of the 140 seats in the Senate (the upper house of parliament) and 155 of the 327 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house). A surprising development in these elections, however, was the extent of support for the nationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM) led by Vadim Tudor, which gained 37 seats in the upper house and 84 seats in the lower house; Tudor himself came in second in the 2000 presidential elections. The remaining seats in parliament were won by smaller parties. Since 2000, Nastase of the PSD served as prime minister. Romania's 2000 presidential elections brought Iliescu back to power.
Romania's 2004 general elections were held on November 28 for both president and parliament. While the elections were generally accepted as fair, they were plagued by allegations of fraud and other irregularities. Final results had not been announced by November 30. A run-off for the presidency was scheduled for December 2004. Notably, the PRM appeared to have lost many seats in both houses.
Romania applied to join the European Union (EU) in 1995. Negotiations, which began in 2000, were due to be completed by the end of 2004. An encouraging report from the EU reiterated Romania's projected accession date of 2007 and for the first time designated Romania as a "functioning market economy." Nevertheless, the report also expressed many concerns, including over judicial and media independence; corruption; and police brutality. The EU may agree to conclude negotiations officially once Romania has laws and programs in place to address the worst failings, while following the country closely to ensure progress after negotiations are complete.
In 2004, Romania's policy on international adoptions became headline news. Romania had imposed a ban on international adoptions of Romanian children in 2001 after pressure from the EU, which was concerned about corruption and trafficking and has linked the issue to Romania's EU membership. Since then, the United States, which had been the recipient of many of the children, has lobbied for an end to the ban. At the beginning of 2004, Romania broke the moratorium and allowed 105 children to be adopted in Italy. However in June, with help from EU advisers, the Romanian parliament passed a law that severely restricts international adoptions.
Romanians can change their government democratically. Elections since 1991 have been considered generally free and fair by international observers. According to international monitoring groups, election laws provide an adequate basis for democratic elections. The president is directly elected, but he does not have substantial powers beyond foreign policy. He appoints the prime minister, who remains the most powerful politician. The members of the bicameral parliament are elected for four-year terms.
Romania has four major political parties: the PSD, the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (DAHR); the populist-nationalist PRM; and the new Truth and Justice Alliance (DA) of Centrist Democratic and Liberal Parties. A 5 percent electoral threshold favors big parties. The president is not permitted to be a member of a political party. Bureaucrats and businessmen who profited from the post-Communist privatization continue to wield power.
General elections for both president and parliament took place on November 28. The main opposition presidential candidate dropped out of the race suddenly in October, officially for health reasons, resulting in a hasty replacement by Basescu of the DA. He ran against Prime Minister Nastase and ten other official candidates from smaller parties. The elections were deemed democratic by Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe observers, although some procedural concerns were raised. Control over the number of times each voter cast a ballot was weak, and the opposition accused the PSD of bussing supporters to various poll locations to vote multiple times. Media coverage was seen as biased toward the ruling party. However, the election bureau rejected opposition calls for annulment of the results due to fraud. The presidential race was Romania's closest since 1989, with rural voters generally supporting the PSD and urban voters favoring the DA. As of November 30, the opposition alliance was expected to more than double its representation in parliament. Basescu and Nastase were scheduled to face each other in a run-off for the presidency on December 12.
The 1991 constitution provides for a seat to be allotted to each national minority that passes a special threshold lower than the 5 percent otherwise needed to enter parliament. The number of these seats varies according to the number of eligible minorities, thus changing the total number of seats in the Chamber of Deputies. In the 2004 elections, 18 such seats were allotted.
In February, the Hungarian Civic Union broke off from the DAHR on a platform of advocating for territorial and administrative autonomy for Transylvania's Hungarian minority, which makes up less than half of Romania's Hungarians. However, the Central Election Commission refused the union's registration for both the June local elections and November general elections. In June, a bill that would grant the group autonomy was rejected by parliament.
Despite anticorruption legislation passed in 2003 that has been condoned by the EU, corruption remains a serious problem in Romania. The PSD announced a new zero-tolerance policy on corruption in March 2004 that will include training programs in schools and for public officials. Some officials have been arrested on corruption charges, but some were acquitted. In the case of the mayor of Bucharest and 79 other senior officials, some observers suspect political motivation behind the August corruption charges against them. In general, Romania continues to be criticized for passing laws and making mid-level arrests with no genuine progress. Romania was ranked 87 out of 146 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index.
In April, the government amended the 2003 corruption laws, which already required public officials to declare their assets, and extended the requirement to those running for major office. Transparency and accountability measures are in place, but the laws are often ignored or circumvented. A scandal broke in early 2004 when the EU criticized the Romanian government's award of a $2.5 billion highway contract to an American company without a prior open tender. The United States and Romania defended the award on the grounds that the company was the most qualified.
The 1991 constitution enshrines freedom of expression and the press, and the media are characterized by considerable pluralism. However, there have been increasing concerns about the state of press freedom. The government controls the largest funding sources, and state-owned companies favor pro-government media with valuable advertising revenue. Self-censorship is common and reportedly increased as the 2004 elections approached. Prime-time broadcasts are basically devoid of criticism of the government and were accused of favoring the ruling party in election coverage. Moreover, a debate flared in the fall as journalists accused the foreign owners of newspapers Evenimentul Zilei and Romania Libera of pushing pro-government editorial content and a focus on uncontroversial subjects instead of political news; the owners denied any such policy. Violence against journalists reportedly increased in 2004. For example, in September two journalists were assaulted by company bodyguards while photographing the headquarters of oil consortium VGB from public property; police did nothing to intervene except to advise the journalists to leave the premises. On a more positive note, in June, an amendment to the penal code was passed making libel punishable by fines instead of imprisonment.
Religious freedom is generally respected, although "nontraditional" religious organizations sometimes encounter difficulties in registering with the state secretary of religions. Lack of registration denies adherents the right to exercise freely their religious beliefs and prevents them from building places of worship and cemeteries. The government formally recognizes 17 religions in the country, each of which is eligible for some level of state support for such activities as the building of houses of worship and salaries for the clergy. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the government respects this right in practice. In general, the government does not place restrictions on the work of NGOs, which usually find government officials to be cooperative. Workers' rights to form unions and to strike are fairly well protected, although in practice workers have some difficultly forming independent unions.
As part of the reform process for EU membership, constitutional changes have aimed to make the judiciary independent of the government. However, executive institutions still exercise undue control over the judicial system and the EU has severely criticized Romania for its lack of judicial independence. Public prosecutors are considered by many international observers to have excessive powers, although the ability of the prosecutor-general to appeal otherwise final court decisions was eliminated by an April change to the Penal Code. In June, the head of the country's highest court, who was close to the opposition, was pressured into retirement for what many consider to have been political reasons; his replacement is a personal friend of President Iliescu.
Police have been accused of using excessive force and of occasionally beating detainees. Prisons are considered to be overcrowded, despite recent improvements. Amnesty International released a report in 2004 criticizing conditions in Romania's psychiatric hospitals, and some individuals have been denied a fair trial by being sent into psychiatric care. Children in particular are not adequately protected from police brutality. There have been charges that Roma are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement.
Romania has 18 recognized minorities, the largest being Hungarians and, far behind, Roma. Minorities have the right to use their native tongue in communicating with authorities in areas where they represent at least 20 percent of the population. Signs must also be written in minority languages and local government decisions must be announced in those languages. Constitutional changes adopted in October 2003 allow ethnic minorities the right to use their native languages in court.
Property rights are respected, although the ability of citizens to start businesses continues to be encumbered by red tape, corruption, and organized crime. Romania has lost at the European Court of Human Rights in attempts to keep nationalized property.
The constitution guarantees women equal rights with men, but gender discrimination remains widespread. Women were expected to hold about 10 percent of the seats in the new parliament. Trafficking in women and girls for purposes of forced prostitution has become a major problem. Parliament passed a law in 2001 outlawing trafficking in human beings, and the country is involved in an extensive public education effort to warn people about the dangers of trafficking.