After Ukraine, Romania shows democracy at work

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The outcome of Sunday's presidential elections in Romania has more than a few echoes of Ukraine. The dénouement in Bucharest is, for now at least, more reassuring.

The outcome of Sunday's presidential elections in Romania has more than a few echoes of Ukraine. The dénouement in Bucharest is, for now at least, more reassuring.

The tense stand-off during which Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, the ruling left's candidate, and the opposition challenger, Traian Basescu, both claimed victory, has ended in triumph for the reforming Mr Basescu. Mr Nastase, a protégé of the outgoing President and veteran former communist Ion Iliescu, had nosed ahead in the first round of elections on 28 November. But, as in Kiev, that vote was dogged by allegations of fraud, prompting street protests and international concern. In another parallel with Ukraine, the election exposed deep divisions between the urban middle classes and rural voters wary of reforms advocated by Mr Basescu's centrist Justice and Truth Alliance.

For the Romanian people and for the rest of Europe, the victory of the more pro- Western candidate represents a welcome turning point. This is a country still struggling to build democratic institutions and a functioning economy almost 15 years after the collapse of communism. Mr Nastase could boast of his achievements in leading Romania into the ranks of Nato membership this year, but the sluggish pace of reform in other areas has delayed accession to the European Union until 2007 at the earliest. The challenge for the incoming leadership in navigating accession to the club of European democracies remains formidable. Rampant corruption and political patronage, the hallmarks of Mr Nastase's leadership, are hobbling progress.

Mr Basescu is not associated with the old communist regime. As mayor of Bucharest he has proved effective, pushing through improvements like removing urban eyesores and stray dogs. Unusually, he has also spoken up for the rights of gays and other minorities. His most enduring campaign promise was that he would stamp out corruption.

In a powerful victory speech yesterday, he repeated that pledge to the cheers of his orange-clad supporters. Let us hope that he can deliver the quiet revolution they expect. Ukraine will be watching.

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