Political Rights: 2
Civil Liberties: 2
Life Expectancy: 71
Religious Groups: Eastern Orthodox [including all sub-denominations] (87 percent), Protestant (6.8 percent), Catholic (5.6 percent), other (1 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Romanian (90 percent), Hungarian (7 percent)
Romania made some progress in implementing macroeconomic structural reforms during the course of 2003, as well as adopting better ethnic minority legislation. However, widespread corruption throughout the political system and reported intimidation of the media prevented faster progress on reforms.
Throughout the latter half of the Cold War, Romania was ruled by Nicolae Ceaucescu, one of Eastern Europe's most repressive dictators. In late 1989, popular dissatisfaction with Ceaucescu's rule led to his overthrow and execution by disgruntled Communists. A provisional government was formed under Ion Iliescu, a high-ranking Communist and the leader of the National Salvation Front (NSF). The 1992 parliamentary elections saw the NSF split into neo-Communist and reformist factions. In November 1996, Emil Constantinescu of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) defeated Iliescu in presidential elections. The CDR was prone to considerable instability and lack of unity, however, as was evident in the dismissals of Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea in 1998 and Prime Minister Radu Vasile in 1999.
In the November 2000 parliamentary elections, the former Communist Party, rechristened the Party of Social Democracy (PDSR), won 65 of the 140 seats in the Senate (the upper house of parliament) and 155 of the 327 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house). A surprising development in these elections, however, was the extent of support for the nationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM) led by Vadim Tudor, which gained 37 seats (or 21 percent of the vote) in the upper house and 84 seats (20 percent) in the lower house; Tudor himself came in second in the 2000 presidential elections. The remaining seats in parliament were won by the National Liberal Party (PNL), with 13 in the upper and 30 in the lower house; the Democratic Party (PD), 13 and 31, respectively; and the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), 12 and 27, respectively. Since 2000, Adrian Nastase of the PDSR has served as prime minister.
Romania's 2000 presidential elections, held over two rounds in November and December, provided further evidence of the strength of Tudor's right-wing party. In the first round of the elections, Tudor gained 28.5 percent of the vote, coming in second to the PDSR's Iliescu, who gained 36.5 percent in the first round. In the run-off elections in December, most left-wing and center parties shifted their support to Iliescu, allowing him to win the second round with approximately 67 percent of the vote.
Romania received mixed reviews on its progress on implementing political and economic reforms in 2003. While an IMF report on the government's economic program praised progress in structural reforms and the adoption of sound macroeconomic policies – as well as predicting economic growth in the 5 percent range for the next five years – a European Union (EU) report issued in November claimed that Romania could not yet be considered a "functioning market economy" and noted extremely high levels of corruption, even by regional standards; in 2003, Transparency International found Romania to have the worst degree of corruption of any of the 28 EU member or candidate countries. A World Bank study issued in 2003, meanwhile, ranked Romania last among EU candidate countries in terms of the responsiveness and efficiency of its administration, the quality of government regulations, the rule of law, and political stability. Doubt is beginning to grow that Romania will be able to meet all the requirements for its scheduled 2007 accession to the EU. A possible political hurdle to Romania's EU accession that year could be the ultimate electoral strength of Tudor's PRM in the 2004 presidential elections.
Despite these problems, Romania is making some progress in implementing reforms required by the EU. Constitutional changes required by the EU were adopted by referendum in October; turnout for the referendum was 55.7 percent, of which (in an important indicator of the population's support for EU membership) 89.7 percent of those voting endorsed the constitutional changes.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
Romanians can change their government democratically. Elections since 1991 have been considered generally free and fair by international observers. According to international monitoring groups, the legal framework for elections and laws related to the formation of political parties and the conduct of presidential and parliamentary elections, as well as governmental ordinances, provide an adequate basis for democratic elections. In the second round of presidential elections in 2000, voter turnout was 57.5 percent.
Corruption remains a serious problem in Romania. In October, three government ministers were forced to resign after revelations emerged that they had engaged in or failed to stop corruption in their respective ministries. Property rights are secure, although the ability of citizens to start businesses continues to be encumbered by red tape, corruption, and organized crime.
The 1991 constitution enshrines freedom of expression and the press, and the media are characterized by considerable pluralism and a general absence of direct state interference. There are, however, limits to free expression resulting from provisions prohibiting "defamation of the country and the nation." Libel against government officials can still be punished with imprisonment. Some 80 percent of the population gets most of its news and information from the four largest television stations in the country, and media watchdog groups claim that their coverage is generally biased in favor of the government. One domestic nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported 10 major incidents of government harassment of journalists during the year. There were no reports of government attempts to restrict access to the Internet during 2003.
Religious freedom is generally respected, although "nontraditional" religious organizations, including Jehovah's Witnesses, sometimes encounter difficulties in registering with the state secretary of religions. Lack of registration denies adherents the right to exercise freely their religious beliefs and prevents them from building places of worship and cemeteries. The government formally recognizes 17 religions in the country, each of which is eligible for some level of state support for such activities as the building of houses of worship and salaries for the clergy. In May, Jehovah's Witnesses were granted such recognition, the first addition to the list since 1989. In June 2002, parliament passed a law restituting church property held by the state since the Communist period. No government restrictions on academic freedom were reported during the year.
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the government respects this right in practice. In general, the government does not place restrictions on the work of NGO's, which usually find government officials to be cooperative. Workers have the right to form unions and to strike.
Executive institutions exercise undue control over the judicial system. The Public Prosecutor is considered by many international observers to have excessive powers, and much of the judiciary is still packed with Ceaucescu-era holdovers. In 2002, the European Commission called for "comprehensive reform" of the Romanian judiciary. As part of the reform process, constitutional changes adopted in October 2003 formally make the judiciary independent of the government. Prisons are considered to be overcrowded and conditions "harsh," although some improvement in prison conditions was noted during the year.
The 1991 constitution provides for additional seats to be allotted to national minorities if they are unable to pass the 5 percent threshold needed to enter parliament. In the 2000 elections, 18 seats were awarded to national minorities on this basis. The adoption of the Local Public Administration Act in January 2001 grants minorities the right to use their native tongue in communicating with authorities in areas where they represent at least 20 percent of the population. The act also requires signs to be written in minority languages and local government decisions to be announced in those languages. Constitutional changes adopted by referendum in October 2003 allow ethnic minorities the right to use their native languages in court.
There are no restrictions on travel within the country, and there are no legal barriers for citizens who want to change their place of residence.
The constitution guarantees women equal rights with men, but gender discrimination remains widespread. Women are considerably under-represented in government: only 10.4 percent of deputies and 5.7 percent of senators currently in parliament are women. Trafficking in women and girls for purposes of forced prostitution has become a major problem. Romania is considered a country of origin, a transit country, and a minor destination country for trafficked women and girls. Parliament passed a law in November 2001 outlawing trafficking in human beings, and the country is involved in an extensive public education effort to warn people about the dangers of trafficking.
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