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Aug 06

Romanian Politics and the Parliamentary Solution

Romanian Parliament CupolaIn their systematic and highly useful account of democracy, Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan[1] describe five arenas[2] which taken together form the societal and institutional backbone of any working democracy. When all five arenas are well established and able to function properly, the democracy which fosters them may be called a consolidated one. Unfortunately, anyone with even a shallow understanding of the Romanian socio-political environment will recognize the fact that within this country all arenas are lacking in some respects, and that easy solutions to the problems plaguing Romanian democracy and Romanian politics are difficult to come by. Even so, let us try to understand the most pressing matter and its most salient solution.

Romanian Politics: Diagnosing the Illness

Although all five arenas are quite important for the functioning of any democracy, one of them stands out as being able to affect the entirety of the system more than others. Political society, by having the ability to construct the legal system, define and direct the state apparatus, provide an environment for the growth of a healthy and enterprising economic society, and last, but certainly not least, foster the development and the level of participation of civil society, is the one arena which carries with itself both the most power and the greatest amount of responsibility for the development and consolidation of democracy.

The biggest problem faced by Romania is that, of course, its political society is precisely the most damaged, ineffective, fraudulent and undermining arena of democracy. While individual members of Romanian politics carry a significant amount of responsibility for this state of affairs, the unchanging nature of the problem and its persistence in worsening rather than easing must mean that there is some larger systemic failure supporting and nurturing the individual failures of Romanian politicians. Thus before addressing any other topic, the political system itself must be checked out for signs of life and the slimmest possibility of recovery. Therefore we must be on the hunt for the political arrangement which would best create, nourish, and support a healthy political society.

Before moving further with the argument and attempting the conception of such an arrangement, some further refinements concerning the definition of the malaise plaguing Romanian politics must be made. For there are many political illnesses and oftentimes each requires its own cure.

The bulk of the problems now facing Romanian politics stem from the faulty way in which the country’s transition from communism took place. Romania’s transition was, and to the extent to which the country is still not a consolidated democracy according to the previous definition, still is an arduous and mismanaged process. There are many reasons for which this is the case, some bearing the weight of the past, others ignoring the promise of the future. One of the important ones is that Romania never got the chance to develop a proper civil society. Especially after the fall of communism there was no civil movement or organization which could produce the politically able individuals needed for what Linz and Stepan call a “pacted transition”[3]. Instead of a process of negotiation between civil society and the Communist Party, power was immediately carried over to a splinter group of the party itself which, using the general confusion of the 1989 revolution, managed to instill itself into the hearts and minds of the people as the saviors of the nation[4].  The consequences of this unfortunate fact are many and far reaching, but the most striking one is that political society could never, nor did it ever truly try to escape its communist roots, and, as a result, all arenas of democracy were improperly attended to for over twenty years.

At this point it should be made clear that in all consolidated democracies, be they parliamentary, presidential, or somewhere in between, the legislative must carry a role at least equal to that of the executive. Without this basic balance of power democracy itself stands to falter or stutter until some semblance of equilibrium is reached. Unfortunately, the Romanian parliament has been constantly undermined by the executive branch through the excessive use of government ordinances.[5] In effect, since the transition process began, the Romanian parliament could fulfill its legislative function only on the rare occasions on which it was not forced to transform governmental decrees into law[6].

Taking this into account, and adding to it what has already been discussed, it follows that political society in Romania suffers from a chronic lack of accountability. To be more specific three types of accountability are lacking: accountability of the political class in front of the law, accountability of the political class in front of the electorate, and finally accountability of the executive in front of the legislative. Thus the task at hand is that of devising a parliament which could cure the systemic lack of accountability Romania currently endures.

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