Dan Voiculescu's Tainted Past Dogs Humanist Party In Romania

Roundup: Media's Take

Christopher Condon, Financial Times (London, England), 1/10/05

Dan Voiculescu, head ofthe Romanian Humanist party, summons an underling to bring an important piece of paper. It is a letter from the state agency charged with studying the archives of the Securitate, Nicolae Ceausescu's secret police. Complete with the requisite eagle stamps, it states that Mr Voiculescu was not an agent or collaborator of the Securitate.

Mr Voiculescu is practised at producing the document. One of Romania's wealthiest businessmen and head of a domestic media empire, during the 1980s he ran a Lebanese-owned, Cyprus-based import-export company from Bucharest. Foreign trade in those days, says Securitate historian Mihai Pelin, was controlled exclusively by the Securitate and Mr Voiculescu has been dogged by accusations ever since.

"These are all stories made up by the press. No one has ever succeeded in providing any proof," Mr Voiculescu says.

To many Romanians, Mr Voiculescu represents everything that has gone wrong with business and politics in this Balkan country in the 15 years since the fall of the Ceausescu dictatorship.

From journalists and political scientists to democratic activists, his legion of critics say Mr Voiculescu, 58, is compromised by his past involvement with the communist regime and wealthy because of deals that relied on political connections. His modest success in politics, critics add, stems solely from the power of Antenna 1, his national television station, while his party works mainly to protect his business interests.

Mr Voiculescu claims his party's aim to protect individual liberties and the rights of small businessmen explains its name, humanism being defined here as a Renaissance movement that emphasises the individual's capacity for achievement based on reason.

Others call the name a pretence.

Nonetheless, the Humanist party now finds itself a junior coalition partner in a new reformist government that is aiming to stamp out cronyism and corruption.

And there is a powerful perception among those hoping for reform, especially young urban voters, that the new government has made a dangerous compromise.

The stability of the coalition was thrown into doubt last week when President Traian Basescu called the pact with the Humanists"an immoral solution".

Few political observers expect the government to last more than 12 months, causing early elections that could disrupt efforts to keep European Union membership on schedule for 2007.

The coalition is headed by the centrist Justice and Truth Alliance. Mr Basescu, its leader, was elected president last month, but the Alliance won only 31 per cent of seats in November parliamentary elections. That forced the Alliance to turn to minor parties, including the Humanists, to gather a majority.

Calin Tariceanu, the prime minister, has appointed a slate of fresh young ministers committed to greater transparency in government, judicial reforms and a pro-business economic policy that operates without favouritism - all steps necessary for Romania to join the EU on schedule. But the same young faces have also attracted criticism for their lack of experience.

As if to underline the point, Cristina Parvulescu, 29, nominated to handle EU integration affairs, was unable at her parliamentary confirmation hearing to explain the difference between the Council of Europe and the European Council of Ministers. She was hastily withdrawn.

More worrying is the Humanist party. In the new coalition, Mr Voiculescu was allowed to name two senior officials, including minister of economics.

Tom Gallagher, a Romania specialist at Bradford University in the UK, says Mr Voiculescu may seek to torpedo reforms."He is a potentially major problem if the government decides to introduce legislation that will challenge vested interests which have profited through the questionable sale of state assets."

The prime minister's trump card, however, is that the Humanists may not be able to reach the 5 per cent threshold for entering parliament should new elections be called, as they would have to run alone. That may persuade Mr Voiculescu to avoid undermining the government. Yet, to most observers, that will only delay an inevitable confrontation.

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