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Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

NYT: Symbol of Romanian Leadership? Hands on a Throat

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Perhaps the best that can be said of relations between the president and prime minister of Romania is that they are unambiguous: they can’t stand each other.

That is less than surprising, given that one of the first major actions taken by Prime Minister Victor Ponta after he came to power in May was to push for a vote on whether to impeach the president, Traian Basescu. The attempt to oust Mr. Basescu failed in July, but the poisonous effects are still being felt.

The acrimony has dashed the high hopes that accompanied the electoral victory of the 40-year-old Mr. Ponta, who promised to usher in generational change in a country that has struggled to overcome one of the harshest Communist legacies among the former Soviet bloc states.

The two men are now locked in an uncomfortable cohabitation until elections in December, leaving this poor Balkan nation adrift. And even that vote, analysts say, may prove inconclusive.

In an interview at the gargantuan and opulent 1,100-room Palace of Parliament, built by the former Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu as a monument to his authority and grandeur, Mr. Ponta acknowledged mistakes but fell short of expressing outright regret.

He could barely conceal his contempt for Mr. Basescu, a former ship captain, whom he accused of brazenly clinging to power despite having been rejected by a majority of Romanians, calling the president politically “illegitimate.”

“My mentality as a new generation of politician is to respect the institution even if I don’t respect the person,” he said. “He will never give up. He is a former sea captain, and you won’t see a former sea captain being humble or giving up.”

Romania’s troubles have added to concerns in the United States and Europe about the political instability and threats to democratic institutions that are intensifying across the former Communist bloc.

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has come under criticism for flouting democracy with a series of measures that have brought the judiciary and the news media to heel. In the Czech Republic, the government has teetered on the edge of collapse with ministers involved in corruption scandals.

Romania, in particular, lacked a history of stable, enlightened governance even before it endured World War II and then decades of the Ceausescu dictatorship, which ended with his violent overthrow in 1989.

Since then, Romanians have labored to build democratic structures virtually from scratch, finding themselves in a far more challenging position than almost any of their post-Communist neighbors. Romania’s foibles have provoked debate about whether it and Bulgaria, which both entered the European Union in 2007, were invited too soon, before their cultures of lawlessness, corruption and winner-take-all politics had been uprooted.

The vociferousness of the domestic battle in Romania has overshadowed policy-making; rattled the currency, the leu; and undermined investor confidence in a country that is the second poorest in the European Union after Bulgaria. Read more in The New York Times

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Written by Theophyle

October 22, 2012 at 10:38 am

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