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Romania: Coalition Feuds Retard Reforms

  • Ron Synovitz

Bucharest, 15 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Romania's recurring political crises are the result of two dominant features in Bucharest politics.

On one hand, the year-old governing coalition is a complicated patchwork of parties that each appear more concerned about promoting their own views and personnel than pushing forward desperately needed economic reforms.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea is widely seen as lacking the political negotiating skills that are vital for holding together a conglomeration of such diverse interests.

Matters have been complicated for Ciorbea by the fact that each of the three main components in his coalition is not a party, but rather, an alliance of parties -- the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR), the Social Democratic Union and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR). Instead of bargaining with one or two partners, Ciorbea has been faced with a coalition of coalitions.

A lack of party discipline, at both the government and parliamentary level, has led to further disputes because rank and file members often take independent actions in violation of agreements reached by their own leaders.

The biggest critics of Ciorbea within the coalition, the Democratic Party, has accused the prime minister of being inflexible toward dissent. Ciorbea reportedly has told the party's ministers to either follow his course or to resign.

In an attempt to end internal bickering late last year, Ciorbea fired three ministers and reshuffled other cabinet posts, bringing non-affiliated technocrats into the key economic ministries. But conflicts continued with two cabinet members from the Democratic Party -- Foreign Minister Adrian Severin and Transport Minister Traian Basescu. Both resigned later in December.

Basescu's forced resignation brought angry calls from the Democratic Party's grass roots organizations, which wanted Basescu reinstated. Ciorbea yesterday rejected those demands. Today's Democratic Party conference on whether to continue support for the government was a direct result of these developments.

Democratic Party leader and former Prime Minister Petre Roman has warned Ciorbea's Christian Democrats to stop treating his party like a junior coalition partner. Roman also has called for speedier reforms, and complained that Ciorbea has been biased against Democratic Party ministers.

Ciorbea's government made rapid reform progress early last year by reducing inflation and opening Romania's markets to foreign investment. But since last summer, coalition feuding has brought the reform process to a grinding halt. In the last week alone, Romania's leu currency has lost more than four percent of its value against the U.S. dollar. The decline was continuing today.

Foreign investment has failed to materialize at the expected levels -- not surprising considering that parliament still has not finalized laws to clarify conditions for foreign firms.

A program aiming to privatize 3,600 state companies in 1997 resulted in the sell off of only 200 firms, most of them of small or medium-size. That has placed an added burden on the state budget, which must continue funding hundreds of loss-making state firms. Experts warn that a severe budget crisis could result if the pace of privatization is not accelerated.

Ironically, the coalition partners have all agreed on the need for economic reform. But they differ on what approach to take. The Democratic Party wants to pursue privatization mainly through the sale of state assets. It opposes the full restitution of industrial properties and large tracts of agricultural land to pre-Communist owners. Other coalition members support the sale of state property, but see full restitution as an important part of the process.

A team of World Bank experts arrived in Bucharest yesterday to monitor progress on reforms. A team from the International Monetary Fund is scheduled to arrive next week.