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  • The Coalition for a Clean Parliament

This report is by Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, president of the Romanian Academic Society, who heads the Coalition for a Clean Parliament.

On the occasion of the legislative and presidential elections in November and December 2004, Romanian civil society organized itself for the first time into a broad coalition for integrity in politics: the Coalition for a Clean Parliament (CCP). Frustrated by the government's lack of effectiveness in fighting large-scale corruption, civil society took matters into its own hands.

The CCP first determined the criteria that would make a candidate unfit for a clean parliament. These criteria were: 1) having repeatedly shifted from one political party to another in search of personal profit; 2) having been accused of corruption on the basis of published and verifiable evidence; 3) having been exposed as an agent of the Securitate (Ceauşescu's former secret service); 4) being the owner of a private firm with important tax arrears to the state budget; 5) being unable to account for the discrepancy between one's officially stated assets and one's income; 6) turning a profit from conflicts of interest involving one's public position. The second step was to discuss these criteria with the leadership of the political parties represented in the Parliament. The most important ones—the Social Democratic Party/Humanist Party of Romania coalition (PSD/PUR), the Justice and Truth Alliance (DA), and the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR)—agreed with the criteria and the process that we had designed, and they publicly announced their support for the CCP's campaign.

Our third step was to gather information about the candidates of these parties. We collected material published in the press over the years and researched the websites of various public authorities in charge of financial and commercial matters. Then we double-checked our information. Our fourth step was to draw up lists of those candidates who met one or more of the agreed-upon criteria for being unfit to hold a seat in the future Parliament. The resulting "black lists" were then sent to the political parties, with the request that they re-examine each case and decide whether to withdraw the candidate in question. The CCP also offered to analyze any cases where individual candidates contested its findings. Step five consisted of the withdrawal by the political parties of significant numbers of their initial candidates. Some of the candidates appealed to the CCP, which approved or rejected their appeals and adjusted its lists accordingly. Our last step was to release the final CCP black lists in the form of [End Page 154] nearly two million flyers, distributed in most of the 41 counties of Romania. Funding was provided by the Balkan Trust, the Romanian Soros Foundation, and Freedom House.

After the results showed that far more unfit candidates belonged to the ruling PSD than to the opposition, that party denounced the whole procedure and encouraged its candidates to sue Coalition members and ask the courts to stop distribution of the flyers. In public statements and open letters, the progovernment PUR (and its private television station Antena 1) accused the CCP of "conspiracy," calling its members "civic terrorists" and "a bunch of criminals." The PSD and the PUR also asked the Central Electoral Bureau, Romania's highest electoral authority, to ban the CCP flyers, but judges from both the Bureau and the ordinary courts ruled in favor of the CCP. Opponents of the CCP campaign found a more effective tactic, however. In many counties, they circulated fake flyers, using the CCP format but replacing the names of PSD candidates with opposition candidates.

Local media and NGOs did their best to help the CCP campaign. Thanks to the combined efforts of both students and grassroots organizations such as the Civic Alliance and the Pro Democracy Association (APD), nearly two million flyers were distributed in almost every county in Romania. More than two thousand people, from students to union members, participated as volunteers in this campaign.

What were the results of the black-list campaign? The CCP initially documented 143 cases of unfit PSD candidates. Under pressure from civil society, the PSD withdrew about 30...