Democracy, its political institutions, and constitutional checks and balances are fragile. Populist politicians, taking advantage of the economic crisis in the European Union created by the welfare nanny state, are attempting to take over hearts and minds with promises they cannot keep.
Populism is supposed to be a “political doctrine that supports the rights and power of the common people in their struggle with the privileged elite.” If you replace common people with proletariat and privileged elite with the rich, you have incipient, street level community organizing for communism.
That is how communism was sold to Eastern Europeans 60-70 years ago. That is how communism is sold again to Eastern European countries like Greece and Romania, faced with austerity measures that affect ordinary citizens. The corrupt kleptocracy that squandered EU money and used funds and loans to enrich themselves are not really suffering.
The elderly are nostalgic about the worry-free, poverty level subsistence nanny state. The confused Romanians are tired of corruption and bribery. They have experienced freedom from communism but not from the former communists who had stolen and pillaged the country blind, while the ruling elite closed their eyes to the corruption and took advantage of their new-found power to participate and to squelch democratic judicial decisions and democracy in general.
The current power struggle is fought between the old guard communists with their wealthy families, turned into thriving billionaire capitalists, and the young neo-communists, who have had no memory or experience of Ceausescu’s communist dictatorship. These young neo-commies are lured and supported by European socialist and Marxist parties.
The left-wing Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, took over Parliament in an attempt to remove any checks and balances on his government, while forcing the current president from office. Ponta became Prime Minister in May after two right-of-center coalitions collapsed. (Washington Post, July 2012)
A country of 22 million people, Romania has approximately 12 parties. Prime Minister Victor Ponta cobbled a social-liberal coalition, led by his own Social Democrat Party (PSD). PSD has roots in the former Romanian Communist Party under Nicolae Ceausescu. (Andrew MacDowall, Christian Science Monitor, July 12, 2012)
In January 2012, thousands of Romanians protested President Traian Basescu’s authoritarian rule. The tipping point was his criticism of the deputy health minister, Raed Arafat. Arafat demanded efficiency and transparency in health care and private participation in emergency health services. Arafat resigned after televised direct criticism from President Basescu.
Arafat returned to work eventually, the President scrapped his controversial health care bill, but the protesting group, calling themselves the Romanian branch of the Arab Spring, continued their fight to remove the President. (Christian Science Monitor, Andrew MacDowell, January 17, 2012)
President Basescu, an ally of Emil Boc, the Prime Minister at that time, had a strong majority in Parliament. On February 6, after country wide protests, Emil Boc resigned “to defuse political and social tensions.” An interim Justice Minister was appointed, Catalin Predoiu, the only one in Boc’s cabinet who had no political party affiliation.
People resented Boc’s government because he increased sale taxes from 19 percent to 24 percent in response to the shrinking of the economy by 7 percent which necessitated the $26 billion in loans from the IMF to help pay salaries and pensions.
Ponta and Basescu argued publicly over who should represent Romania at the EU summit. The Constitutional Court, based on precedent and protocol, decided that the president should attend. Ponta disagreed and “stripped the court of its right to overrule the parliament, replacing some members,” including the Ombudsman, with his political allies. Prime Minister Ponta also seized the official bulletin in which laws were published in an attempt to control legislation, delay the court, and prohibit the release of new rules by President Basescu. (Andrew MacDowall, July 12, 2012)
Ponta’s Ph.D. dissertation was challenged and declared blatant plagiarism, in spite of the fact that he tried to disband the academic panel charged with the investigation.
A July 29 referendum is scheduled to decide if the President should be impeached. Having overstepped Constitutional authority, Prime Minister Ponta and his allies hope that the referendum will impeach President Basescu and his allies. The court ruled that the referendum turnout must exceed 50 percent of the voters in order to be valid. The rule would ensure that the President would not be ousted by a low voter turnout.
Ponta did not like the court’s ruling and tried to change it, so that impeachment would be ratified by a majority of those voting instead of a majority of all registered voters. Ponta had to retreat when EU leaders threatened Romania with sanctions.
The European markets reacted negatively to the internal power struggle – the Romanian currency plunged in value and the borrowing costs for Romania escalated.
Ponta and his left-wing allies are not exactly backing down. His campaign will lure voters in the general election with the promise that he will reverse the austerity measures put in place in 2009. President Basescu, the former leader of the Democrat Liberal Party, a former communist himself, is an outspoken and confrontational individual who disdains the opposition. Cristian Mititelu, of the BBC Romania said, “The austerity measures seem to have penalized those who worked for the state, retirees, and people who depended on social security.” (Alison Mutler, AP, February 6, 2012)
According to Ovidiu Nahoi, a Romanian journalist, problems abound. The endemic corruption from the communist regime did not go away, it got incrementally worse. Romania received a loan of 20 billion euros in 2009 from the IMF on the condition that there will be a 25 percent cut in public sector salaries and 5 percent increase in value added taxes (VAT). President Basescu, a Social Liberal, eliminated many state jobs. Ovidiu Nahoi said, “Pensions, prices, poverty, injustice, and corruption are all major issues that have been amplified by austerity. People are protesting not just against austerity, but against a political system seen to be corrupt and unjust. They want a new structure of society.”
Wanting change, and not sure what kind of change, the people bought the promises of more welfare from the Ponta government. The problem is that Ponta is a die-hard communist, having inherited the roots of Ceausescu’s Romanian Communist Party which exploited his people for 29 years, his tyrannical rule bringing them to the brink of economic and societal disaster. Romanians are finding themselves now between the rock of Ponta’s tyrannical communism and Basescu’s hard place of crony capitalism.