Nations in Transit 2013 is Freedom House’s comprehensive, comparative study of democratic development in 29 countries from Central Europe to Eurasia. This edition covers the period from January 1 through December 31, 2012 and measures progress according to the following indicators: electoral process, civil society, independent media, national democratic governance, local democratic governance, judicial framework and independence, and corruption.
Romania has experienced a series of unstable governments in the last decade. Austerity measures imposed during the economic recession in 2010, including an increased sales tax and a 25 percent cut in public sector wages, fueled dissatisfaction with the government led by Prime Minister Emil Boc and supported by President Traian Băsescu, both affiliated with the Liberal Democratic Party (PDL). This frustration came to a head in January 2012, when thousands of protesters took to the streets of Bucharest, calling for the two leaders to resign. Prime Minister Boc stepped down in February, but the government led by his replacement, Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu, fell to a no-confidence vote in April. Băsescu then named Victor Ponta as prime minister, and a ruling alliance of Ponta’s former communist Social Democratic Party (PSD), the National Liberal Party (PNL), and the Conservative Party (PC) was approved by Parliament in May.
In late June and early July, the new government took a series of widely criticized steps to consolidate its power over state institutions. It replaced the ombudsman, the only official with the authority to challenge government emergency ordinances ( temporary legislation issued by the executive directly) before the Constitutional Court; issued an emergency ordinance to limit the Constitutional Court’s powers; replaced the PDL leaders of both chambers of parliament; and passed a motion to suspend President Băsescu, eventually leading to a referendum on his impeachment. In the 29 July referendum, an overwhelming majority of participating voters favored Băsescu’s impeachment, but the results were invalidated due to low voter turnout, a subject of further political contestation. Parliamentary elections in December brought a decisive victory to the Ponta-led alliance. Despite the by-now extremely poor relations between the two men, President Băsescu confirmed Ponta to another full term as prime minister.
The enormous strain placed on Romania’s rule of law and democracy in 2012 reminded onlookers that the country’s 2007 accession to the European Union (EU) was largely a political decision, and possibly premature, on the part of Brussels. Romania experienced a very difficult transition after the 22-year rule of Nicolae Ceaușescu. It was the last country in East Central Europe to register a political power swing from former communists to anticommunist challengers, and the only one to harbor violent popular movements as late as 1999. Since its EU accession, Romania has stagnated in terms of economic and other policy reform, crippled by political infighting and endemic corruption entrenched during and since the Ceaușescu era.
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