Stag­na­tion, res­ig­na­tion reign ahead of Ro­ma­nian vote

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BUCHAREST:

When Ro­ma­nia’s left­ist gov­ern­ment col­lapsed a year ago amid out­rage over a deadly night­club fire, many peo­ple spied an op­por­tu­nity for sweep­ing change in a coun­try plagued by cor­rup­tion and inept pub­lic ser­vices.

But af­ter the up­swelling of pub­lic anger over the deaths of 64 peo­ple in the Club Colec­tiv, which lacked emer­gency ex­its and fire safety per­mits, the clam­our for change to make Ro­ma­nia a safer, more se­cure and pros­per­ous coun­try has dimmed. In­stead, the cam­paign for Sun­day’s par­lia­men­tary elec­tion has been dom­i­nated by a sense of ex­hausted res­ig­na­tion about chronic poverty and politi­cians’ un­ful­filled prom­ises of re­form and in­vest­ment in a now derelict in­fras­truc­ture.

Polls fore­cast the left­ist So­cial Democrats (PSD), who ad­vo­cate both higher wages and pen­sions and lower taxes, will re­gain power, de­spite the cor­rup­tion shad­ows around them, with their party chief con­victed of vote rig­ging.

“Peo­ple are tired of prom­ises, they want some­thing they can see, like wages. And it’s about time these rise, they’re very low,” said Grig­ore Con­stantin, a Bucharest taxi driver.

Ro­ma­nia’s av­er­age monthly wage is 2,094 lei ($493), the sec­ond low­est in the Euro­pean Union, with av­er­age pen­sions less than half that. Ger­many’s min­i­mum wage is 1,440 eu­ros ($1,528.56), il­lus­trat­ing the en­dur­ing chasm be­tween the west­ern EU and the emerg­ing economies in its ex-com­mu­nist east. Economists warn that pen­sion and pub­lic sec­tor wage rises pledged by the PSD and also ri­val par­ties will come at a cost - po­ten­tial tax in­creases and a drain on re­sources ur­gently needed to build modern hos­pi­tals, high­ways and more schools with heat­ing and plumb­ing - that are likely to dis­ap­point vot­ers.

In­creas­ingly bloated state bud­gets - which had been slashed in the wake of the 2008 global fi­nan­cial cri­sis - may rile the Euro­pean Union ex­ec­u­tive, which has pushed Bucharest to cre­ate leaner, modern pub­lic ser­vices and stamp out graft. Left­ists in power from 2012-2015 re­versed much of the belt-tight­en­ing by cut­ting taxes and rais­ing the min­i­mum wage and pub­lic-sec­tor pay.

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion now ex­pects Ro­ma­nia’s deficit to quadru­ple from 0.8 per­cent in 2015 to 3.2 per­cent in 2017 un­der Euro­pean ac­count­ing terms. It would be the sec­ond largest deficit in the EU af­ter Spain.

IN­FRAS­TRUC­TURE NEEDS

The cur­rent tech­no­cratic gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Da­cian Ci­o­los, a for­mer Euro­pean com­mis­sioner who took over for one year af­ter Vic­tor Ponta quit in Novem­ber 2015, has sought make pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion more trans­par­ent.

It also ad­justed wage im­bal­ances in health care and launched a four-year plan to lift hundreds of thou­sands of peo­ple out of poverty - with ben­e­fits rang­ing from so­lar pan­els on roofs of 100,000 homes that lack elec­tric­ity to cash in­cen­tives to help re­duce school drop-out rates. — Reuters

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