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Last Updated: Monday, 14 May 2007, 17:19 GMT 18:19 UK
Romanian politics mired in abuse
By Petru Clej
BBC Romanian Service

Basescu supporters in Iasi
Basescu supporters outnumbered opponents on the streets of Iasi
Insults are flying as never before in an electoral campaign in Romania.

"Oligarch!", "drunkard!", "throw them overboard!" - these are just a few of the phrases relentlessly assaulting the public ear, day in, day out.

The campaign for the 19 May referendum on whether to dismiss President Traian Basescu has reached a frenzy, each side outbidding the other in aggressive language.

Opinion polls, few and far between and not very reliable, point to a comfortable victory for the president, by a margin of two to one.

If mass rallies are any indication, then Mr Basescu wins hands down. On Sunday, about 50,000 people turned out in the north-eastern city of Iasi.

The president's supporters outnumbered his foes by about three to one. In other cities - Craiova and Bucharest - it was the same story at the weekend.

Campaign abroad

Nor is the campaign limited to Romania. Rallies have been held in support of Mr Basescu by Romanian diaspora in Paris, London, Madrid, Montreal, Chisinau and other cities.

President Basescu in Craiova, 12 May 07
President Basescu was suspended for alleged abuse of power

By far the largest rally was held in Castellon, a Spanish town by the Mediterranean, where 10,000 Romanians turned out for Mr Basescu.

Romanians make up about a quarter of Castellon's population of 150,000, which prompted the Romanian foreign ministry to open a polling station in the town.

About 800,000 Romanians live and work in Spain and interest in the referendum is strong.

Mr Basescu was suspended by parliament on 19 April for "grave infringements of the constitution", although the constitutional court, which was called upon to issue a non-binding opinion, said there had been no major infringements.

The MPs' vote, 322 in favour of suspension and 108 against, seems to defy the popular mood.

Anti-presidential politicians accuse the president of totalitarian tendencies and subverting the government and parliament.

In fact, for Mr Basescu's supporters "322" has become like the "number of the devil".

The youth wing of the Democratic Party (PD), which supports Mr Basescu, has installed 322 spikes in a Bucharest park. They recall a medieval method of executing political foes devised by Vlad the Impaler, a Romanian 15th-Century prince, who remains prominent in the popular psyche.

Violent language

This symbolic "execution" drew the ire of the European Socialists - no doubt alerted by the anti-Basescu Social Democratic Party (PSD), which labelled it "an attack on parliament".

Basescu opponents in Iasi
Basescu opponents sported red flags in Iasi
Mr Basescu has in turn received support from the European People's Party (EPP), the largest in the European Parliament, of which the PD is a member.

Mr Basescu has called on the public to "throw the 322 overboard!", labelled the leaders of the anti-presidential coalition "oligarchs" - without producing much evidence - and hinted that Russia might have been involved in his suspension, allegedly for his pro-Western foreign policy.

The PSD leader, Mircea Geoana, called Mr Basescu a "drunkard" and "head of the mafia".

Most of the media have abandoned any pretence of impartiality, often amplifying the violence of the message.

The general tone of the debate prompted King Michael, the former head of state until 1947, to show his exasperation and warn that the current crisis could endanger Romania's position abroad.

Indeed, since EU accession on 1 January, Romanian politicians have spent much time bickering.

The European Union has shown increasing impatience, but for the moment this does not seem to register in Romania.


SEE ALSO
Romania's MPs suspend president
19 Apr 07 |  Europe
Country profile: Romania
19 Apr 07 |  Country profiles

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