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Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Prime Minister Emil Boc of the ruling Democratic Liberal Party implemented sharp spending cuts and tax increases in 2010, aiming to reduce the budget deficit and comply with a 2009 international loan agreement. The measures prompted repeated protests by public-sector workers, but the government survived a series of no-confidence motions brought by the opposition. Separately, a European Union progress report in July criticized Romania for showing a lack of commitment on anticorruption and judicial reforms.
In 1989, longtime dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu was overthrown and executed by disgruntled Communists. A provisional government was formed, and regular multiparty elections soon followed, with power changing hands between right-leaning parties and the former Communist Party, renamed the Social Democratic Party (PSD), during the 1990s. The PSD returned to power in the 2000 parliamentary elections, with Adrian Năstase as prime minister.
In 2004, Traian Băsescu of the Alliance for Truth and Justice (comprising the National Liberal Party, or PNL, and the Democratic Party, or PD) defeated Năstase in a presidential runoff. The PNL and PD then formed a coalition government with the Humanist Party (later renamed the Conservative Party, or PC), and the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR). Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu of the PNL became prime minister.
The ruling coalition proved rather unstable, and after Romania’s accession to the European Union (EU) in January 2007, Popescu-Tăriceanu ousted the Băsescu-allied PD from the cabinet in April. At the PSD’s urging, Parliament voted to suspend Băsescu and organize a referendum on his removal, but he easily won the vote in May.
The new Democratic Liberal Party (PDL), a union of the PD and a PNL splinter faction, won parliamentary elections in November 2008, narrowly defeating a PSD-PC alliance in the lower house, 115 seats to 114, and in the Senate, 51 seats to 49. The rivals then formed a grand coalition in December. Meanwhile, the PNL was left with 65 seats in the lower house and 28 seats in the Senate, followed by the UDMR with 22 and 9. The remaining 18 lower house seats were set aside for ethnic minorities. Voter turnout was less than 40 percent; unlike in previous years, no major fraud allegations were reported. PDL leader Emil Boc was confirmed by Parliament as the new prime minister.
The grand coalition broke down in October 2009, when the PSD withdrew and Boc’s resulting minority government was toppled in a no-confidence vote, though it remained in place in a caretaker capacity as the presidential election campaign began.
Băsescu and his PSD challenger, Mircea Geoană, led the first round in November with 32 percent and 31 percent, respectively. Although the PNL and UDMR then endorsed Geoană, Băsescu won the December runoff by some 70,000 votes amid 58 percent turnout, and the Constitutional Court confirmed the results after the PSD forced a partial recount. Parliament subsequently approved a new PDL-UDMR coalition government led by Boc.
The government struggled throughout 2010 to implement a harsh fiscal austerity package as part of the previous year’s $27 billion emergency loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund. The budgetary measures, which included a five-point increase in the value-added tax and a 25 percent public-sector pay cut that took effect in July, drew repeated protests by workers and criticism from opposition parties. Although the government narrowly survived a parliamentary confidence vote in June, Boc replaced six ministers in a September reshuffle, and Interior Minister Vasile Blaga resigned later that month after what he called an illegal wage-related protest by thousands of police officers. Boc’s government remained in office at year’s end after surviving three more confidence votes in October and December.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties:
Romania is an electoral democracy. Elections since 1991 have been considered generally free and fair. The president is directly elected for up to two five-year terms and appoints the prime minister with the approval of Parliament. Members of the bicameral Parliament, consisting of the 137-seat Senate and 334-seat Chamber of Deputies, are elected for four-year terms. New rules governing the 2008 parliamentary elections replaced the old party-list voting system with single-member districts, although all districts with no majority winner were allotted based on collective proportional representation. In a referendum held concurrently with the 2009 presidential election, voters overwhelmingly endorsed a plan by President Traian Băsescu to create a unicameral legislature with no more than 300 seats. However, the necessary constitutional revisions had yet to pass at the end of 2010.
The constitution grants one lower house seat to each national minority whose representative party or organization fails to win any seats under the normal rules, and 18 such seats were allotted in 2008. The UDMR has long represented the ethnic Hungarian minority. Political participation and representation of Roma are very weak.
Romania has struggled to meet EU anticorruption requirements since joining the bloc in 2007. The latest EU progress report in July 2010 criticized the country for a lack of political will to reform, and particularly faulted the effective suspension of the new National Integrity Agency (ANI), which vetted and released public officials’ asset declarations. The Constitutional Court struck down the law governing the ANI in April, arguing that its activities violated privacy rights and illegally took on judicial functions. Notably, seven of the court’s nine judges were themselves being investigated by the ANI. Lawmakers then passed a revised ANI law, but the EU rebuked it for unduly weakening the agency, and it was again rejected by the Constitutional Court in July. A new version was passed in late August, and the ANI had resumed operations by year’s end. The EU progress report praised the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) for its high-level investigations and indictments, but noted that trials were still plagued by delays and that final judgments often yielded low or suspended sentences. The government’s lack of effective conflict-of-interest safeguards and procurement procedures were also cited in the report. Among several other ongoing cases against senior law enforcement and political figures, prosecutors in May charged former prime minister Adrian Năstase with taking bribes during his time in office. Parliament had agreed to waive his immunity in 2009 after previously refusing to do so. Romania was ranked 69 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, making it one of the worst performers in the EU.
The constitution protects freedom of the press, and the media are characterized by considerable pluralism. However, a weakening newspaper market led some foreign media companies to withdraw from the country in 2010. Political bias at state-owned media is a concern, and private outlets are heavily influenced by the political and economic interests of their owners. In April 2010, Prime Minister Emil Boc engaged in a minor altercation with a Realitatea TV reporter, accusing his station and one other, Antena 3, of antigovernment bias. The PDL then called on its members to boycott the two stations’ programs. Media mogul Sorin Ovidiu Vântu, who owned Realitatea and several other outlets, was arrested and briefly detained in September for allegedly aiding a man who had been convicted of running an illegal investment scheme. He claimed the case was politically motivated. The government doesnotrestrict access to the internet.
Religious freedom is generally respected, but “nontraditional” religious organizations encounter both difficulties in registering with the state and discrimination by some local officials and Orthodox priests. The government formally recognizes 18 religions, each of which is eligible for proportional state support. The Romanian Orthodox Church remains dominant and politically powerful. The government does not restrict academic freedom, but the education system is weakened by unchecked corruption.
The constitution guarantees freedoms of assembly and association, and the government respects these rights in practice. Workers have the right to form unions and a limited right to strike, but in practice many employers work against unions, and illegal antiunion activity is rarely punished. Labor protests took place throughout 2010, as public employees and others attempted to block budget cuts.
The judiciary is one of the most problematic institutions in Romania. The 2010 EU progress report hailed the enactment of new criminal and civil procedural codes in June, but noted that they were not expected to take effect until late 2011. The courts continue to suffer from serious staffing shortages, and criminal defendants have been able to initiate lengthy delays in their cases, though legislation passed during 2010 eliminated some common stalling mechanisms. The EU report criticized the judicial disciplinary system, citing lenient sanctions and the paucity of cases opened. Conditions in Romanian prisons remain poor. The country has the highest tuberculosis rate in the EU, with prisons serving as a central source of infection, though efforts to combat the problem have yielded some progress in recent years.
Roma, homosexuals, people with disabilities, and HIV-positive children and adults face discrimination in education, employment, and other areas. Romania is home to the EU’s largest population of Roma, but has reportedly failed to apply for and spend EU funding dedicated to improving their living conditions.
The constitution guarantees women equal rights, 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 forced prostitution has become a major concern, with Romania reportedly ranking as the leading source of migrant sex workers in the EU. However, some advances in law enforcement and victim protection have been reported in recent years. The criminal code does not provide for restraining orders in domestic violence cases.