Capital: Bucharest
Population: 21,474,000

Political Rights Score: 2 *
Civil Liberties Score: 2 *
Status: Free


President Traian Basescu narrowly won a second term in a December 2009 runoff election against Mircea Geoana of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), paving the way for a new coalition government led by the Basescu-allied Democratic Liberal Party (PDL). A fragile governing coalition between the PSD and PDL had collapsed in October, leading to months of political deadlock. Separately, a European Union progress report in July found that Romania's efforts to reform its judicial system and combat corruption were being hindered by political infighting and procedural delays.

In 1989, longtime dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu was overthrown and executed by disgruntled Communists. A provisional government was formed under Ion Iliescu, a high-ranking Communist, and regular multiparty elections soon followed. The former Communist Party, renamed the Social Democratic Party (PSD), took power in the 2000 parliamentary elections, with Adrian Nastase as prime minister.

In 2004, Traian Basescu of the Alliance for Truth and Justice (comprising the National Liberal Party, or PNL, and the Democratic Party, or PD) defeated Nastase in a presidential runoff. The PNL and PD then formed a coalition government with the Humanist Party (later renamed the Conservative Party, or PC), and the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR). Calin Popescu Tariceanu of the PNL became prime minister.

The ruling coalition proved rather unstable, and after Romania's accession to the European Union (EU) in January 2007, the friction between the president and prime minister flared into direct confrontation. The PSD exploited the rift and gave tactical support to Tariceanu. Much of the disagreement appeared to stem from the president's aggressive pursuit of EU-backed judicial and anticorruption reforms, which his opponents accused him of politicizing.

Tariceanu ousted the Basescu-allied PD from the cabinet in April 2007. At the PSD's urging, Parliament voted to suspend Basescu and organize a referendum on his removal, but he easily won the vote in May. The new Democratic Liberal Party (PDL), a union of the PD and a PNL splinter faction, won parliamentary elections in November 2008, narrowly defeating a PSD-PC alliance in the lower house, 115 seats to 114, and in the Senate, 51 seats to 49. The rivals then formed a grand coalition in December, controlling a combined 329 out of 471 seats in both chambers. Meanwhile, the PNL was left with 65 seats in lower house and 28 seats in the Senate, followed by the UDMR with 22 and 9. The remaining 18 lower house seats were set aside for ethnic minorities. Voter turnout was less than 40 percent; unlike in previous years, no major fraud allegations were reported. PDL leader and Cluj mayor Emil Boc was subsequently confirmed by Parliament as the new prime minister.

The grand coalition broke down in October 2009, after the PSD interior minister – Dan Nica, the country's third interior minister that year – was sacked for suggesting that the PDL was planning to engage in fraud in the upcoming presidential election. The PSD withdrew from the coalition, and Boc's resulting minority government was ousted in a no-confidence vote, leaving a caretaker government in place as the presidential campaign began. The opposition rejected Basescu's nominees to replace Boc in the weeks leading up to the vote.

Basescu and his PSD challenger, Mircea Geoana, led the first round in November with 32 percent and 31 percent, respectively.PNL candidate Crin Antonescu, who placed third with 20 percent, then endorsed Geoana, as did the UDMR. Nevertheless, Basescu won the December runoff by some 70,000 votes amid 58 percent turnout, and the Constitutional Court confirmed the results after the PSD forced a partial recount. Parliament subsequently approved a new PDL-UDMR coalition government led by Boc.

The year's political clashes took place as the EU pressed Romania to follow through on judicial and anticorruption reforms, and as the global economic downturn placed serious strains on the national budget. The government agreed in March to a $27 billion package of emergency loans from the International Monetary Fund and other lenders, pledging to undertake painful deficit reductions over the next several years. Separately, the EU released roughly $200 million in agricultural aid that had been frozen in 2008, citing improvements in Romania's disbursement system.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Romania is an electoral democracy. Elections since 1991 have been considered generally free and fair. The president is directly elected for up to two five-year terms, and appoints the prime minister with the approval of Parliament. Members of the bicameral Parliament, consisting of the 137-seat Senate and 334-seat Chamber of Deputies, are elected for four-year terms. New rules governing the 2008 parliamentary elections replaced the old party-list voting system with single-member districts, although all districts with no majority winner were allotted based on collective proportional representation. In a referendum held concurrently with the 2009 presidential election, voters overwhelmingly endorsed a plan by President Traian Basescu to create a unicameral parliament with no more than 300 seats.

The constitution grants a lower house seat to each national minority that passes a certain voting threshold, and 18 such seats were allotted in 2008. The UDMR has long represented the ethnic Hungarian minority. Political participation and representation of Roma is very weak. For the first time since its 1992 founding, the ultranationalist Greater Romania Party won no seats in Parliament in 2008, though it secured two seats in June 2009 elections for the European Parliament.

Romania has struggled to meet EU anticorruption requirements since joining the bloc in 2007. The latest EU progress report in July 2009 found that improved investigations by the National Anticorruption Directorate and the new National Integrity Agency, which vetted public officials' asset declarations, were offset by the inability of the courts and disciplinary bodies to adjudicate cases swiftly. The report also noted political resistance to anticorruption efforts, particularly in Parliament, which had moved slowly and inconsistently on requests to lift the immunity of accused members. The Chamber of Deputies voted in March 2009 to allow criminal proceedings against former prime minister Adrian Nastase, having rejected such a move the previous year. Two former cabinet ministers were indicted for corruption the same month, and three sitting ministers faced graft probes during the year. None of the roughly 20 current and former cabinet ministers accused of corruption since 2007 have been convicted to date. Romania was ranked 71 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index, tying Greece and Bulgaria for the worst performance in the EU.

The constitution protects freedom of the press, and the media are characterized by considerable pluralism, though Romanian journalists often suffer verbal abuse and minor physical assaults. In January 2007, the Constitutional Court struck down reforms that had decriminalized libel and defamation, effectively reinstating them in the penal code. Long-standing concerns about political bias at state-owned media continue, and private outlets remain heavily influenced by the political and economic interests of their owners. During the 2009 presidential campaign, key media moguls turned their outlets against Basescu, though he ultimately won despite the hostile coverage. The government doesnotrestrict access to the internet.

Religious freedom is generally respected, but "nontraditional" religious organizations encounter both difficulties in registering with the state and discrimination by some local officials and Orthodox priests. The government formally recognizes 18 religions, each of which is eligible for proportional state support. The Romanian Orthodox Church remains dominant and politically powerful. All religions are required to have a membership equal to at least 0.1 percent of the population to be officially acknowledged. Moreover, nontraditional religions must undergo a 12-year "waiting period" prior to recognition. The government does not restrict academic freedom, but the education system is weakened by unchecked corruption.

The constitution guarantees freedoms of assembly and association, and the government respects these rights in practice. The civil society sector is vibrant and able to influence public policy, increasingly by working through EU officials and mechanisms. Workers have the right to form unions and strike, but in practice many employers work against unions, and illegal antiunion activity is rarely punished. Major labor protests took place throughout 2009, as public employees including teachers, railway workers, judges, and police fought budget cuts and demanded salary increases.

The judiciary is one of the most problematic institutions in Romania. The 2009 EU progress report praised the passage of new criminal and civil codes in June, but noted that they could not take effect until new procedural codes were also enacted, which was not expected until at least 2011. The courts continue to suffer from budgetary, staffing, and structural deficiencies, and existing laws allow criminal defendants to trigger lengthy delays in their cases. Conditions in Romanian prisons remain poor.

Romania's 18 recognized ethnic minorities have the right to use their native tongue with authorities in areas where they represent at least a fifth of the population, but the rule is not always enforced. Roma, homosexuals, people with disabilities, and HIV-positive children and adults face discrimination in education, employment, and other areas.

The constitution guarantees women equal rights, but gender discrimination is a problem. Only about 10 percent of the seats in Parliament are held by women. Trafficking of women and girls for forced prostitution has become a major concern. However, some law enforcement and victim-protection progress has been reported in recent years. The criminal code does not provide for restraining orders in domestic violence cases, and abortion is permitted after 14 weeks of pregnancy only to save the woman's life or in other extraordinary circumstances.

*Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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