Romanian politics has always been about personalities rather than policies and expedient coalitions have been formed between the least likely of political bedfellows.
Corruption is never far from the surface and various high-ranking political figures have been accused of influence-peddling in business dealings, suppressing the media, vote-rigging, links with the Securitate (Communist Secret Police) and other wrong-doing.
The country’s current political formation began to take shape in 1990, after the Romanian Revolution had overthrown the Communist regime and executed its leader Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife Elena. Much about the revolution (including suspicions of involvement from foreign parties and the identity of mysterious gunmen) remains unclear to this day. What is clear is that just days after the Ceaușescus were outsted, former Communists led by Ion Iliescu had seized power by gaining control of the only TV channel on air at the time and making pronouncements.
Iliescu’s newly established group, the National Salvation Front, was supposed to organize general elections in 1990 and stand down. However, it ended up contesting and- with the help of media monopoly- winning them.
The former Communists continued to dominate the local political landscape. When students and professors protested at how the revolution was being hijacked, Iliescu called the miners to Bucharest to suppress the demonstrating ‘hooligans’, which they violently did. Iliescu’s party again triumphed at the 1992 elections, before being voted out four years later, owing in large part to the beginnings of an independent media.
New president Emil Constantinescu began a far-reaching reform programme. However, the coalition government was beset by infighting, living standards continued to fall and political disenchantment fomented. In the 2000 elections the ex-Communist PSD won and Iliescu returned for another four years.
In 2004, following Romanian’s acceptance into NATO, the PSD lost to the Justice and Truth Alliance headed by Traian Băsescu who became president. But the squabbling continued, as the alliance collapsed and disparate parties collued to suspend Băsescu. One of the few politicians to have been genuinely popular with the voters, Băsescu easily won the public vote to overturn the suspension and returned to office. However, Romania was badly rocked by the global economic crisis, as years of rapid economic growth suddenly turned into recession. With recovery stymied by political infighting and several domestic scandal, Băsescu beat PSD candidate Mircea Geoană by only the narrowest of margins in the 2009 elections to ensure another five years as president.
The system in place is a parliamentary representative democratic republic. Theoretically, the president safeguards the observance of the Constitution and the proper functioning of the public authorities.
He acts as a mediator between the state powers, as well as the state and the punlic. The prime minister leads the government, which exercises executive power.
Legislative power is shared between the government and parliament, which is comprised of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The judiciary is theoretically separate from both the executive and legislature, although there have been accusations of interference. Voting takes place every four years for general elections, every five for presidential ones. In 2008, Romania adopted the MMP (mixed member proportional representation) system, instead of the unpopular full representation system in place previously.