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The Coalition for a Clean Parliament – An Initiative of the Romanian Academic Society

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I. Executive Summary

Implemented ahead of the 2004 local and national elections in Romania, the Coalition for a Clean Parliament (CCP) was a nationwide public advocacy and anticorruption project initiated by a non-government think tank, the Romanian Academic Society (SAR). Operating in association with eleven other Romanian non-governmental organizations, the CCP aimed to broadly address endemic issues of political corruption and unaccountability plaguing post-communist Romanian civil society. Bypassing weak anticorruption laws and inadequate government action, the CCP encompassed a widespread alliance of actors seeking to publicly expose and purge candidates for public office who did not “meet civil society’s criteria of moral integrity.”[1] The project was achieved by 1) establishing criteria to test political candidates on their integrity and fitness for public office, 2) investigating the “public image”[2] of major political party candidates for evidence of corrupt activity or behavior, 3) creating blacklists of corrupt candidates as per the established criteria and 4) revealing the blacklists of corrupt candidates in a mass advertizing campaign prior to Election Day.[3]

The CCP blacklists included 95 candidates from the ruling Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Humanist Party (HP), 9 candidates from the Justice and Truth Alliance (JTA), 46 candidates from the Greater Romania Party (GRP) and three candidates from the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians from Romania (DAHR).[4] A total of 98 candidates from the initial CCP blacklists were either withdrawn from the ballot by their respective parties or lost in subsequent elections; 104 successfully entered parliament, representing a nearly 50 percent success rate that prevented verifiably corrupt politicians from gaining seats in public office.[5] The electoral turnover produced by the 2004 anticorruption campaign also spurred improved anticorruption efforts by the Romanian government in the following year. The Coalition’s efforts were widely documented by the Romanian and international news media and, despite expected opposition from individuals and parties most exposed by the initiative, were endorsed by various sectors of the electorate and Romanian civil society.

The success of the CCP in Romania provides promising evidence that reproduction of such ventures may be tenable in other post-communist nations or regions similarly afflicted by extensive political corruption and unaccountability. Similar initiatives have already been replicated throughout the region and the CCP continues to serve as a model experiment in good governance and democratic reform.

 

II. Context: Political Corruption, Governmental Unaccountability and Low Civic Knowledge in Post-Communist Romania 

Following the popular overthrow of the Ceausescu regime in December 1989, the Romanian political scene remained saturated with the former elite of the communist government and racked by staggering degrees of corruption and governmental unaccountability.[6] Romania’s transition from a brutal communist regime to an open and free-market democracy brought widespread political profiteering with little internal or external oversight. Overlap between the elite of the public and private sectors was substantial, and politicians (in addition to employees of the state, law enforcement and the judiciary) profited greatly from monopolistic manipulation of the market, bribery, graft and personal favors of various kinds: “Some status groups were able to convert influence into wealth during the transition, and in some post-communist countries they still hold disproportionate control of all of opportunities, therefore hindering free market relations and fair competition. They control access to most resources.”[7] 

Low electoral turnover prevented significant attempts to stem the country’s rampant political corruption. Legislation consonant with anticorruption efforts in other European post-communist transitional democracies proved largely futile too. Distrust in government and elected officials ran high in most sectors of Romanian civil society, and “constituencies with low civic competence and low interest in politics” made ameliorating the situation a persistent difficulty.[8] Public opinion polls demonstrated that political institutions and actors, and members of the Romanian national parliament in particular, comprised the most distrusted elements of Romanian society in the post-Ceausescu era.[9]

A case study conducted by the European Research Centre for Anti-Corruption and State-Building (ERCAS), which documented the efforts of the CCP, provides the following bleak description of post-communist corruption in Romania:

Corruption is often invoked to explain how Romania works…Its administration has never reached the stage of fully-fledged modernization and its governments have never achieved the impartiality, impersonality, and fairness that presumably characterize modern bureaucracies. Therefore, corruption manifests itself not just by the use of a public position for personal gain but, more broadly, as the widespread infringement of the norms of personality and fairness that should characterize modern public service.[10]

So entrenched was this culture of corrupt governance that reforming the political status quo from within the state proved highly elusive. As characterized by the ERCAS case study, “The mood was strongly against politicians, but tools were missing on how to tackle the problem.”[11]

 

III. The Problem: What The Coalition for a Clean Parliament was Established to Resolve

The Coalition for a Clean Parliament aimed to ameliorate three systemic and collectively-reinforcing problems afflicting post-communist Romanian civil society in the twenty-first century: the persistent culture of political corruption, widespread governmental unaccountability and low civic participation.[12]

The CCP hoped to broadly challenge and eradicate the low electoral turnover of corrupt political officials, individuals who had participated in illegal behavior and/or were morally unfit to serve in office. The specific problem-individuals targeted by the CCP were those who had: 1) switched political parties for financial gain, 2) proven histories of corrupt activities and behavior, 3) previous affiliations with the Ceausescu security apparatus, 4) private sector holdings indebted to the state, 5) financial discrepancies between reported assets and income, and 6) financial conflicts of interest with policy decisions.[13] According to the ERCAS case study, Romania’s politicians were “the main problem, because [they], who have the power to change things, choose to profit the most.”[14] An IBEU Gallup survey from 2003, cited by the above case study, recorded that 68 percent of Romanians believed “some people are above the law in [their] country,” 88 percent of whom believed that politicians were above the law too.[15] 

The CCP also addressed the dearth of political competency and literacy in the Romanian electorate – a problem that both contributed to low electoral turnover of corrupt public officials and made waging an electoral public advocacy and anticorruption campaign particularly challenging. According to SAR, 80 percent of the Romanian population did not read political newspapers, but were simultaneously disillusioned with the country’s political elite.[16] Moreover, the country’s proportional voting system meant that “each political party prepares its list of candidates and the voters cast their ballots for the whole list.”[17] Economic problems and marginal freedom of the press also limited the media’s ability to encourage public knowledge of political candidates and officials.[18] Effective voter choice was thus minimal, and electoral decisions were often highly uninformed.




[1] “Final Lists of the Coalition for a Clean Parliament.” Romanian Coalition for a Clean Parliament: A Quest for Political Integrity. Working paper no. 1. European Research Centre for Anti-Corruption and State Building, 2005. 77. Web. Hereinafter cited as Romanian Coalition for a Clean Parliament.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid. 8.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Romanian Coalition for a Clean Parliament, 9.

[7] Ibid. 13.

[8] Ibid. 8.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid. 10.

[11] Ibid. 12.

[12] Romanian Coalition for a Clean Parliament, 8.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid. 11.

[15] Ibid. 14.

[16] Ten Years and More. Romanian Academic Society. 13. Web. <http://www.sar.org.ro/files/tenyears.doc>. Hereinafter cited as Ten Years and More.

[17] Romanian Coalition for a Clean Parliament, 55.

[18] Ibid.