Await political drama instead of transformation

From Cornel Ban, Assistant Professor, Frederick S Pardee School for Global Studies, Boston University, US

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Sir, Romania’s regional exceptionalism strikes again: in the age of democratic backlash and nationalist revival, this country elected eastern Europe’s only head of state that comes from an ethnic and religious minority. He is also a respected democrat and administrator.

In “Romanian anger over graft pulls Klaus Iohannis to election victory” (November 18), Andrew Byrne indicates the new president is likely to focus his mandate on pro-business and anti-corruption agendas. But to honour the expectations of those who mobilised at the polls, the president-elect is ill-advised to narrow down his mandate to these two issues.

Contemporary Romania is among the EU’s worst performers in terms of the government’s willingness and capacity to tackle striking poverty, inequality, education, and environmental and heath challenges that impair its development. The president has the power to do more to deal with these scourges.

It is a truism of political economy that addressing these social problems is important for maintaining not only one’s political legitimacy, but also for creating the bases of sustainable prosperity. To this end, fighting graft and strengthening state institutions certainly helps. Yet there is overwhelming evidence that without extensive tax-financed public investments in these public goods, Romanians will continue to be stuck in the trap of low wages, low benefits, thin safety nets, decrepit education and crumbling health systems.

It is unrealistic to expect Mr Iohannis to deliver on this front, however. His political roots are in a conservative party whose programmatic experimentalism has been wedded to narrow pro-business growth theories. What is more, the nominally social democratic government is not keener to address these issues either. Hold your breath for cohabitation drama between Mr Iohannis and the government, but not for transformative socioeconomic policy.

Cornel Ban

Assistant Professor,

Frederick S Pardee School for Global Studies, Boston University, US

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