After the fall of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, George "Gigi" Becali became one of the richest men in Romania. As a public figure, he's reviled for puerile displays and open bigotry. Is he Romania's next parliamentarian?
For years, he has been on trial for tax evasion and bribery. His political dogma is a cocktail of Christian orthodoxy and right-wing nationalism. He's prone to making gestures related to feces and genitalia. He re-defined his latest campaign through the use of homophobic and misogynist rants broaqdcast live on television.
His name is George "Gigi" Becali: real estate magnate, soccer team owner, member of the European Parliament. He is now running for office in Romania as part of his personally financed "New Generation Party."
In the Romanian elections on Sunday, December 12, Becali's party will be listed under the Social Liberal Union (USL) umbrella group.
Decline in political culture
Becali's personal exhibitions are not a singularity in the current campaign, however, but rather symptomatic of how Romanian elections have been operating over the last few weeks.
Each party has numerous questionable candidates: politicians under investigation, ex officers of the country's notorious secret service, avowed anti-Semites. The campaign was an exercise in mud-slinging, entirely lacking in political content. Each of the parties involved has unveiled its own program for change in Romania. All of them are unrealistic.
What is realistic is the Social Liberal Union's chances of winning. The umbrella group has allied itself with the communist-leaning Social Democrat Party, the National Liberal Party and a faction party of the conservative movement. Their popularity is due to the fact that the Social Democrat Party continues to enjoy a perception among the Romanian electorate of caring for the "little people" - despite the fact that the party has recently been implicated in a number of corruption scandals.
Its toughest competition will come from the economically liberal Right Romania Alliance (ARD). The party is closely connected to Romania's current president, Traian Basescu, and has been joined by the Liberal Democrat Party and three other right-wing splinter parties. Recent opinion polls show the ARD receiving 16 percent of the popular vote.
Nary a difference
To classify the two political "blocs" as part of a traditional "left-right" contest is something that the political analyst Alina Mungiu-Pippidi considers "misleading."
"There are no real differences between them," Mungiu-Pippidi said. "They're just two groups fighting for power. Whoever rules gets to distribute the public funds and assets."
That struggle for power broke open this spring. The catalyst was a series of public spending cuts enacted by President Basescu and the ruling right-wing government led by Emil Boc, which triggered protests. Following the resignation of Boc in early February and a short stint by Miha Razvan Ungureanu as prime minister, the Social Liberal Union came to power with Victor Ponta as prime minister.
The Social Liberal Union then provoked one of the worst crises of state Romania has seen in its post-communist history. Through emergency decrees - and in open violation of the law - President Basescu was ordered to remove himself from his post of president.
After three months of agonizing political and administrative standstill, including intense pressure from the European Union, the Ponta government withdrew its decrees. The suspended Basescu then resumed his duties in August.
A country in crisis
Although the political crises was resolved - for the time being at least - the verbal conflict continues to this day. President Basescu, who is obliged to maintain political neutrality in the current campaign as head of state, still managed to throw a few punches. In a recent interview he described Prime Minister Ponta as a "pathological liar."
When asked whether he would nominate Ponta to form a new government once again if Ponta's party were to win the election- a constitutional duty of the president - he replied, "In politics, sometimes you have to swallow toads, but not pigs."
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