One country over from
the Ukraine, Romania is also about to have elections. Election day is tomorrow, Sunday the 28th.
Romania is a sort of borderland right now. It joined NATO last year, and it’s an EU candidate member, with full membership scheduled (at the moment) in 2007. The economy has been growing briskly, and foreign investment is rising rapidly (albeit from a very low base).
But the country is still desperately poor — per capita income, even adjusted for the lower cost of living, is less than a third of the EU average. Corruption is still pervasive. Political life is still dominated by the old Communist nomenklatura.
So whether Romania is doing well or badly is very much a relative question. Compared to, say, Hungary or Poland, they’re very much the poor Eastern cousins. Compared to Ukraine, never mind Belarus or Moldova, though, Romania is an economic and political success story.
And then there are these elections. Let me start with an obvious question: could the Romanian elections be stolen, in the same way that the Ukrainian elections have been? Will the incumbent government allow its candidates to lose?
The short answer is: no. Romania’s politics are not particularly clean, and there will probably be all sorts of skullduggery on Election Day. But it’s very unlikely that there will be massive, wholesale fraud of the sort perpetrated in Ukraine.
Two reasons. One, Romania is just a lot more free than Ukraine. The press is unduly influenced by the government, but it’s not wholly and completely in the government’s pocket. NGO watchdogs, both local and foreign, operate freely. Romanian politics, while often dirty, are not a complete mockery of democracy. Opposition candidates can and do win elections here — in municipal elections, just this June, the government’s candidates got spanked.
The second reason is that Romania does not have the same sort of hardwired nexus of corruption that plagues
the Ukraine. A day or two back, some blogger (sorry, I forget who) pointed out that Ukraine was different from Russia. In Russia, authoritarian Putin arose to challenge the rule of the oligarchs. In Ukraine, authoritarian Kuchma was an oligarch. Ukrainian politics, like the Ukrainian economy, are dominated by the oligarchical “clans”. The Orange Revolution is a reaction against this.
Well, Romania presents yet a third pattern. Romania has oligarchs of its own (although they don’t like the term. Sounds too Russian.) In Romania the oligarchs have, with a few exceptions, joined in the national rush towards respectability. They don’t want to get endlessly rich; instead, they want to firmly ensconce themselves in the economy, make themselves secure from potential prosecution, and prepare for the day when they can be very rich Europeans as opposed to very rich Romanians. To simplify, they have become conservative and defensive — at least, as compared to their Russian and Ukrainian cousins, whose greed seems to have no bottom.
As little-c conservatives, they tend to favor the incumbent government, which is the devil they know. But they also have links to the opposition. And they know that if the opposition wins, it will still be business as usual. So, while they’ll pump money into the ruling party’s campaign, they’re not going to help steal an election outright. That could interfere with the smooth progress of Romania towards full EU membership, and nobody wants that.
Again: this doesn’t mean there won’t be cheating. And if the election is very close — within a percentage point or two — then, oh dear, we could have a problem here. If the government wins by a very narrow margin, there are going to be a lot of (very reasonable) questions raised as to its legitimacy.
But it’s not going to be a revolution.
So. That said, who’s actually running, and what are their chances? Well, for those who are into this sort of thing, I’ve posted a short election guide over on our home blog. Comments are welcome; and I’ll post again, either here or there, as Election Day unfolds.
[Update: Occasional "the" removed by Doug Merrill.]