Romania: A Dream Deferred - The 1990 Elections and Prospects for Future Democracy

Executive summary

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) sent a ten-member international delegation of election specialists and Eastern European experts to observe the May 20, 1990 election of the Romanian President and Constituent Assembly. Members of the delegation observed the electoral process in the period of May 10- 26 in some fifty polling stations in three regions of Romania: Bucharest and adjoining judets (counties); Brasov and Covasna Judets; and the Bacau and Harghita Judets. The delegation both observed election day procedures and conducted meetings with the primary political actors to discuss the electoral process.  

The IFES delegation was offered free access to all stages and elements of the electoral process during its visit to Romania. This was the result of the Romanian Government's decision, soon after the announcement of the May election, to open the process to international observers. The Central Electoral Bureau (CEB) was authorized to invite and accredit international observers. Approximately 500 observers monitored the May 20 election.

Based upon its observations and interviews, the delegation concludes that the choice of Ion Iliescu as President and the composition of the Constituent Assembly appears to accurately reflect the ballots cast during the May 20 election. The delegation found, with only few exceptions, that individuals were able to cast their ballots in secret and without fear of intimidation, and that ballots were counted accurately.

However, the delegation did find significant cause for concern with the Romanian electoral process. Specifically, the delegation was concerned with 1) flaws in election day procedures, 2) a lack of understanding and appreciation of the electoral process among the electorate and 3) the violent character of the campaign period. Because of the magnitude of these latter two concerns, most in the delegation departed Romania with serious reservations about viability of the electoral process as a whole.

First, by the standards of elections in countries with established democratic traditions, the Romanian electoral process showed significant procedural flaws.  The delegation witnessed the following inconsistencies on election day:

1. Unauthorized persons providing unsolicited assistance to voters;

2. Unauthorized persons assisting in vote tabulation procedures;

3. Technically inaccurate implementation of tabulation procedures;

4. Campaign propaganda posted within 500 meters of the polling stations;

5. Improperly sealed or unsealed ballot boxes;

6. Inconsistent implementation of the national identification stamping procedures;

The above procedural inconsistencies did not appear to influence profoundly the outcome of the election. However, measures must be taken to resolve these inconsistencies prior to subsequent elections in order to guarantee that future abuses of the electoral process do not occur.

Second, the delegation found a great deal of confusion among voters as to proper balloting procedure and a general lack of understanding about the voting process. In some instances, voters took up to ten minutes to cast their ballots. The combination of this lack of voter education with severely limited space and inadequately staffed polls resulted in an unbearably slow election: it was typical for voters to wait up to three hours in line to cast their ballots. A voter education program which adequately prepares the electorate for future elections is therefore highly recommended.

Third, the delegation found reason to be concerned with the conduct of the campaign. Specifically, the delegation was troubled by the unwillingness of President Iliescu to adequately respond to:

1. Genuine and documented instances of violence and intimidation of parties in opposition to the National Salvation Front in the period of election campaigning; and

2. Reasonable complaints by the same parties in the same period of unfair access to radio, television and print media.

Although the delegation did not find evidence to support allegations of conspiracy by the leadership of the National Salvation Front against the political opposition, the unwillingness of the President to acknowledge and to take timely and adequate measures to correct these blatant abuses had a significant inhibiting impact upon the freeness and fairness of the campaign.

 

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