Freedom in the World

Romania

Romania

Freedom in the World 2006

2006 Scores

Status

Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

2.0

Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

2

Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

2
Ratings Change: 


Romania's political rights rating improved from 3 to 2 due to a presidential runoff election that resulted in a victory for the opposition candidate and that was widely viewed as fair and competitive.

Overview: 


Opposition leader Traian Basescu of the Alliance for Truth and Justice won the November-December 2004 presidential election, which was widely viewed as fair and competitive. The opposition alliance formed a coalition in parliament with two parties that had previously partnered with the outgoing ruling party.

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.

In the November 2000 parliamentary elections, the former Communist Party, renamed the Party of Social Democracy (PSD), came to power. The most surprising development in these elections was the extent of support for the nationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM), led by Vadim Tudor. The concurrent presidential poll was won by Iliescu, while Tudor came in second place. Adrian Nastase of the PSD was named prime minister.

Elections for both president and parliament took place on November 28, 2004. Traian Basescu of the Alliance for Truth and Justice, Prime Minister Nastase, and 10 other candidates from smaller parties competed for the post of president in the first round of voting. Nastase, who won 41 percent of the vote, faced a runoff against Basescu, who captured 34 percent of the vote. Despite a second-place finish in the first round, Basescu ultimately won the presidency in the second-round runoff on December 12 with just 51 percent of the vote to Nastase's 49 percent.

Although the PSD secured the most seats in the parliamentary election, no party captured a majority. The PSD initially formed a coalition with the Humanist Party (PUR)-its traditional ally-and the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR). However, Basescu's surprising defeat of Nastase in the December 12 runoff for the presidency resulted in the PUR-which subsequently changed its name to the Conservative Party (PC)-and UDMR abandoning the PSD to joining the Alliance for Truth and Justice in a ruling coalition. Meanwhile, the PRM lost support in the 2004 elections. Calin Pospescu Tariceanu of the PNL became prime minister.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe deemed the 2004 elections to have been democratic, 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. Reporters Without Borders and other monitoring agencies judged broadcast media coverage to be biased toward the ruling party, although press coverage was seen as more balanced. However, the election bureau rejected opposition calls for annulment of the results due to fraud. The presidential runoff had fewer irregularities than in the November elections.

In July 2005, Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu announced that he would resign after the Constitutional Court rejected a package of judicial reform laws; he withdrew his promise the same month after severe floods caused massive damage in parts of the country. Pressure from the European Union (EU) and insufficient support for the ruling alliance in polls were likely other motives for his decision to remain in office.

Romania applied to join the EU in 1995. Negotiations, which began in 2000, were completed at the end of 2004. The EU Commission's 2004 report on Romania noted progress in several areas, but the EU is reserving the right to postpone Romania's accession date from the scheduled 2007 until 2008. Many in the EU have expressed misgivings about Romania's preparedness for membership. A cabinet reshuffle by the Romanian government in August was aimed at speeding up EU reforms.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Citizens of Romania can change their government demo-cratically. Elections since 1991 have been considered generally free and fair by international observers. The president, who is directly elected, does not have substantial powers beyond foreign policy. He appoints the prime minister, who remains the most powerful politician, when no party has an absolute majority. The members of the bicameral parliament are elected for four-year terms, and a 2004 constitutional amendment stipulates that the president is now elected for a five-year term. A 5 percent electoral threshold favors large parties; six parties are currently represented in the parliament. The president is not permitted to be a member of a political party.

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. While the Hungarian minority is represented in the ruling coalition, political participation and representation of Roma are very weak.

Despite the existence of anticorruption legislation, implementation of laws has been weak, and corruption remains a serious problem. Foreign businessmen complain of being targeted by corrupt officials for bribes, and no high-level officials have been prosecuted despite evidence that corruption is institutionalized in some areas. Nevertheless, the current government is generally considered to rely less on patronage and to be more committed to anticorruption efforts than its predecessor. At the request of the EU, it commissioned an independent assessment of the state of corruption in the country in 2005. The report, published in March, recommended a number of anticorruption measures to be adopted before Romania joins the EU. Many new laws were passed, including one obliging the most extensive asset declarations by politicians and civil servants to date, beginning in May. Romania was ranked 85 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The 1991 constitution enshrines freedom of expression and the press, and the media are characterized by considerable pluralism. The editor of the independent newspaper Evenimentul Zilei was transferred to a remote post in December 2004, resulting in protests and resignations by other journalists. The owner of the paper, Swiss-based Ringier, had been accused of trying to tone down criticism of the government. German-owned Romania Libera has faced similar pressures, and its editor was forced to step down in December as well. In January 2005, the Romanian intelligence service admitted that it had tapped the phones of two unidentified journalists suspected of espionage. Journalists protested changes to the law on national broadcast media made in mid-2005, which they said would reinforce political control. The entry into force of the 2004 penal code amendments decriminalizing libel have been delayed until 2006. Nevertheless, pressure on media has decreased overall since the presidential runoff in December 2004, and freedom of expression has improved.

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 18 religions in the country, each of which is eligible for some level of state support for activities including the building of houses of worship and salaries for clergy members. The Romanian Orthodox Church remains dominant. The government does not restrict academic freedom.

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government respects these rights in practice. In general, the government does not place restrictions on the work of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Workers have the right to form unions and to strike, but in practice many employers work against unions and their illegal actions are rarely punished.

The judiciary remains one of the most problematic institutions in Romania. Enforcement of judgments in civil cases is inconsistent. In order to ensure coherence with a draft penal procedure code, the 2004 penal code will not enter into force until September 2006. An action plan for the judiciary, which was launched in March, has been implemented according to schedule. In June, the parliament adopted legislation designed to reduce judicial corruption and strengthen independence.

Police have been accused of using excessive force, including the unnecessary use of firearms that sometimes results in death and the occasional beatings of detainees. Mistreatment is rarely investigated or punished. A 2004 Amnesty International (AI) report criticized conditions in Romania's psychiatric hospitals; the government put AI's recommendations into practice, but problems remain. A law on prisons that entered into force in 2005 is designed to improve supervision, and overcrowding has been reduced. There have been charges that Roma are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement officials.

Romania has 18 recognized minorities, the largest of which are the Hungarians. 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. The situation has improved for the Hungarian minority, but discrimination against Roma continues, especially in housing, access to social services, and employment. A National Agency for Roma created in 2001 has taken some steps, but change has not been significant. A draft law on cultural autonomy of national minorities has not yet been adopted.

Property rights are respected, although the ability of citizens to start businesses continues to be limited by red tape and corruption. Emergency legislation passed in July will provide for restitution of or compensation for property confiscated by the Communist regime, but implementation has been slow, and the status of property seized unlawfully remains in doubt.

The constitution guarantees women equal rights with men, but gender discrimination is a problem. Only about 10 percent of the seats in parliament are held by women. Trafficking of women and girls for the purpose of forced prostitution has become a major problem. A national action plan has had little effect, although new legislation came into force in 2005.