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Campaign Begins Today in Romania for Mayors and Local Councils

By Ion Bogdan Lefter

Bucharest, April 19 (RFE/RL) - The campaign for mayors and local councils officially opens in Romania today.

Although world attention focuses most on the candidacy of internationally-known tennis star Ilie Nastase for mayor of the capital city Bucharest, the June 2 elections are expected to exert substantial significance on the future of Romania's democratization.

The balloting will decide a number of local mayorships. Voters also will choose members of local and regional councils, which decide administrative policies, local budgets, and municipal contracts, among other matters. Opinion polls suggest that the voting will be diffused, with no party or coalition achieving much more than 20 percent nationally. Political parties expect to use the results of the local elections as a basis for negotiating coalitions for the general elections to come later.

Romania's President Ion Iliescu promulgated revised election laws for this campaign. The campaign is limited to 45 days, for example. The campaign was 60 days for the last election in 1992.

In addition, the political parties are obliged to declare publicly the sources of their financial support. They are forbiddden to receive support from foreigners or contributors based abroad. Parties will get free access to public television and radio proportional to the number of complete candidate lists they have nationwide. They are prohibited from using sounds, colors or graphics that resemble national symbols of Romania or other countries.

The polls suggest that the leading party is the Party of Social Democracy, the senior partner in a governing coalition that has shrunk from four parties to two. All the parties with which the Party of Social Democracy has allied in the past four years are widely viewed in the West as extremist. Others showing signigicant strength in opinion polls are the Democratic Convention, the principal opposition coalition; and the recently formed Social-Democrat Union. Runoffs are expected for most of the key posts (Jun 16).

Ilie Nastase, the former tennis star, is running for mayor of Bucharest as the candidate of the Party of Social Democracy. He is opposed by trade union leader Victor Ciorbea, for the Democratic Convention, and by Romania's Ambassador to France Anton Vatasescu of the Democrat Party, and other, less-prominant candidates.

The campaign already has generated controversy. A number of opposition mayors have been suspended by government authorities, citing various reasons. The governing parties draw much of their support in rural areas. Pro-democratic and pro-Western opposition parties are polling best in cities and towns.

The government estimates that national coordination of the electoral process will cost the equivalent in Romanian lei of about 650,000 dollars, and that organizing the local ballots will come to five-million dollars.