Romania finally turns out old guard

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The Independent Online
Almost seven years after toppling communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, Romanians have turned against the former communists who have ruled them since - thereby earning the distinction of being the last country in eastern Europe to do so.

With half the votes counted from Sunday's parliamentary election, the country was yesterday clearly heading for a centre-right government in what will be the first real transfer of power in Romania since Ceausescu fell in 1989.

In the parallel presidential vote, the former communist incumbent, Ion Iliescu, emerged narrowly ahead, but fared far worse than expected. He now faces a tough battle in a second round run-off vote against his main rival, Emil Constantinescu, later this month.

As the scale of the former communists' defeat in the parliamentary poll became clear, there was jubilation at the headquarters of Mr Constantinescu's Democratic Convention (CDR), the party now set to lead a governing coalition.

"After seven years of pseudo-democracy and neo-communist rule, the people realised that a total change was needed," declared Lucian Hossu, a leading member of the CDR.

"This is a natural reaction because all the promises turned out to be lies and people's lives became worse and worse."

According to the partial results, the CDR was poised to get some 30 per cent of the vote, well ahead of the 22 per cent registered by Mr Iliescu's Party of Social Democracy (PDSR).

As such, it looked to be well placed to form a government with the third placed centre right Social Democratic Union headed by the pro-reform former Prime Minister Petre Roman.

Most Romanians saw the election result as a damning indictment of the PDSR, the political heir to Ceausescu's Communist Party, which has ruled the country under a number of different guises ever since 1989.

The PDSR was widely blamed for the widespread poverty and corruption that still bedevil Romania and for failing to introduce the kind of sweeping free market reforms that have resulted in dramatic economic improvements in some of Romania's former Warsaw Pact allies such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

"When people looked to some of our neighbours they saw a better standard of life," said Silviu Brucan, a political analyst and former dissident. "Naturally they compared it with the misery and poverty here and concluded something was wrong."

Whereas Romania opted to stick with former communists after 1989, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, like most countries in the region, elected centre-right governments which carried out far-reaching economic reforms.

Although painful at first, these policies have yielded positive results, with all three countries now expected to be in the first wave of new recruits to the European Union and Nato.

During the election campaign, Mr Constantinescu promised to try and bring Romania up to the level of its more prosperous neighbours by enacting a range of social, economic and political reforms aimed at speeding up privatisation, ending corruption and tackling mass poverty. He also promised tax cuts, while at the same time pledging more support for the needy.

According to the partial results in the presidential poll, Mr Constaninescu looked set to win 28 per cent of the vote, with Mr Iliescu capturing 33 per cent. Neither was seen to have built up a convincing enough level of support to be confident of victory in the second round run-off on 17 November.

Should Mr Iliescu win a fresh term as President, he will almost certainly be forced to "cohabit" with a centre-right government - another first in Romanian politics.