Stagnation, resignation reign ahead of Romanian vote
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.
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