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Cablegate: Bucharest Heads Toward Mayoral Elections

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BUCHAREST 000814

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR EUR/NCE - WILLIAM SILKWORTH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM SOCI ECON RO
SUBJECT: BUCHAREST HEADS TOWARD MAYORAL ELECTIONS


1. (SBU) Summary: Bucharest voters vote for a new mayor
Sunday, April 3, to fill the slot vacated in December by now
President Traian Basescu. The two leading candidates in the
field of 17 contenders are Adriean Videanu, a Vice Premier
in the center-right government and a Vice President of
Basescu's Democratic Party (PD) and the former ruling Social
Democratic Party's (PSD) Marian Vanghelie, the populist and
reportedly corrupt mayor of a working class Bucharest
borough. Each of the principal candidates represents a
different "face" of the Romanian political class and appeals
to different constituencies: the polished Videanu attracts
educated, middle class voters while Vanghelie is an old
fashioned ward heeler who appeals to blue collar voters. In
the view of most analysts, Videanu enjoys a strong lead,
although the crowded field could force a runoff. End
Summary.

So Soon. and Why It's Important
-------------------------------
2. (SBU) Bucharest residents Sunday, April 3, again head
to the polls to choose a citywide mayor for the second time
in nine months. The position is the second most visible
directly elected job in the nation. In June 2004, popular
incumbent Traian Basescu trounced than Foreign Minister
Mircea Geoana in the first round of elections, picking up
nearly 55 percent of the vote despite a field crowded with
other contenders. Basescu resigned from the mayoralty
following his surprise victory over PSD PM Adrian Nastase in
the December 2004 presidential contest. Since his
departure, the mayor's office has been filled by the low
profile Deputy Mayor and Democratic Party (PD) politician
Razvan Murgeanu.

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3. (SBU) With about 1,700,000 voters residing within city
limits, the capital city's mayoral election is second only
to the nationwide presidential contest in terms of total
votes cast. Additionally, the electoral law provides that
only two classes of candidates for national or local office
are subject to direct election: the nation's president and
mayors. All other candidates (city and county
councilpersons and MPs) are chosen by a "party list" system.
Consequently, political analysts view the Bucharest election
as a litmus test for a candidate's potential success in
national politics

4. (SBU) PSD leaders told us that they had hoped that ex-FM
Geoana's candidacy last spring would be a springboard toward
a national leadership role, both within the PSD and as PM
under Nastase. In 1996, then Mayor Victor Ciorbea was
tapped to serve as PM of the center-right Romanian
Democratic Convention (CDR) government. The position also
comes with real perks and powers, as Bucharest's mayor
presides over a large workforce, has patronage powers,
access to a sizeable budget from local tax revenue and the
national government and, like Basescu, can use the office as
a bully pulpit to weigh in on national political questions.

And the candidates are...
-------------------------
5. (SBU) Of the seventeen candidates who have thrown their
hats into the ring, the two leading contenders are the PNL-
PD Alliance's candidate, former Vice-Premier and PD Vice-
President Adriean Videanu, and the former ruling PSD's
candidate, Mayor of Bucharest's "fifth district" (borough),
Marian Vanghelie. A poll conducted by the Social Research
Bureau, commissioned by the PNL-PD alliance and released
March 28 shows Videanu leading voters' preferences with 49
percent and Vanghelie trailing with 28 percent. Other
polling tracks with these figures. Most analysts also give
the nod to Videanu, noting that Basescu and other key
Alliance figures, such as popular Culture Minister Mona
Musca, have enthusiastically endorsed him. Additionally,
Videanu's polished image and pro-business stance appeals to
middle class and educated voters, a significant percentage
of the city's population. Despite his lack of experience in
local government, he reportedly has a close relationship
with Basescu, even bruited at one point last summer as a
possible PM pick for a PNL-PD government. A longstanding PD
MP, Videanu moved into the national spotlight in December
2004 when he became Vice Premier. Before resigning from
that position March 18 to run for mayor, he was a lead GOR
negotiator with the IMF.

6. (SBU) A wealthy businessman, Videanu has not been free
from allegations of sharp dealing. His dominant position in
Romania's domestic marble industry has led some to accuse
him of "insider dealing" with influential politicians to
further his business ambitions. He has also been linked to
a scandal involving the collapse of a mutual fund in the
1990's. Videanu has categorically denied any wrongdoing and
the well-spoken, mild-mannered and debonair politician
generally enjoys a favorable popular image. Indeed, many
observers note that the button-down Videanu is the
antithesis of the rather rumpled, outspoken, even impetuous,
Basescu.

7. (SBU) Marian Vanghelie evokes images of a Southside
Chicago ward heeler, circa 1925. Outspoken to the point of
brash, loudly dressed, but ever conscious of Tip O'Neil's
axiom that "all politics is local," Vanghelie enjoys
widespread popularity in his working class neighborhood, the
densely populated Sector 5. In stark contrast to the leafy
suburbs and upscale apartment buildings of Sectors 1 and 2,
Sector 5 has a unique profile: most of the buildings are run
down, multi-story apartment blocs; many of its residents
work in factories or low paying service jobs; unemployment
is higher than in any other borough; and, it has the highest
Roma population of any borough. In June 2004, Vanghelie,
running as an independent after his suspension from the PSD
on corruption charges, crushed his challengers, easily
winning a second mandate in the first round of voting. In
Sector 5, his populist, hands-on style wins him kudos from
the people who count - the voters: he has spearheaded
renovation of schools and apartment blocs, established
parks, and has an efficient local machine. As one Sector 5
resident observed to Poloff, Vanghelie's son attends a local
public school rather than the elite private academies where
most wealthy Romanians (including Videanu) send their school
age children.

8. (SBU) Beyond the borders of Sector 5, however, Vanghelie
is viewed with suspicion and disdain by many, in large part
because of allegations that he is corrupt, but also because
of his "unpolished" style. In a recent conversation with
PolOff, one member of a civil society organization compared
him to flamboyant soccer magnate and erstwhile presidential
candidate Gigi Becali, noting that "he doesn't even speak
proper Romanian."

9. (SBU) Some national PSD officials cried "foul" at
Vanghelie's selection as the party's candidate, observing
that he reinforces the widespread image that the PSD
countenances, even encourages, corruption within its ranks.
Some within the party reportedly favored his outright
expulsion rather than transparent and temporary "suspension"
in 2004. Nonetheless, Vanghelie's success in the 2004
elections - about the only bright news in Bucharest for the
PSD in that contest - coupled with his willingness to spend
his own money on the election campaign (which most view as a
long shot) made him a shoe-in as the PSD mayoral candidate.

The "Also-Rans"
--------------
10. (SBU) The other 15 candidates are mostly newcomers to
the political scene. One exception is long shot contender
and ex-PSD local councilor Cristian Popescu, who decided
initially to run as an independent, but subsequently
received the endorsement of the National Trade Union Bloc
(PBND). Nicknamed "Piedone" after a rambunctious character
from Italian cinema, dark horse Popescu paints himself as an
advocate of the poor and a tough crime fighter. According
to the Social Research Bureau poll, Popescu stands at about
14 percent in the polls.

11. (SBU) The candidate of the extreme nationalist Greater
Romania Popular Party (PPRM) is new MP Anca Petrescu, best
known as the architect of the "House of People," the massive
building constructed under communist dictator Nicolae
Ceausescu that now hosts the Parliament. The PNL-PD-allied
Humanist Party (PUR) has endorsed Radu Opaina, the founder
and leader of an NGO defending the rights of urban apartment
dwellers. Other candidates include independent candidate
and journalist Ralu Filip and engineers, writers and
teachers representing tiny parties.

12. (SBU) Comment. Despite the high stakes, the 2005 mayoral
campaign in Bucharest has been low key, especially compared
to the hard-hitting contest in June 2004 between then FM
Geoana and incumbent mayor Basescu. Observers and pundits
explain the apathy on the part of both professional
politicos and ordinary citizens as a symptom of electoral
"fatigue" following the intense electoral battles of 2004.
Party coffers are empty and citizens are tired of electoral
brochures, blackboards and political talk shows. The public
agenda is also dominated by substantive issues, such as the
fight against corruption, tax and health system reform. The
kidnapping of three Romanian journalists has also kept the
mayoral race off the front pages. Finally, despite
Vanghelie's best efforts, most voters view Videanu's victory
as a foregone conclusion. Analysts predict a low turnout,
less than 30%, which might, however, place the two main
candidates close enough to make the second round set for
April 10 somewhat more exciting. End comment.

13. (U) Amembassy Bucharest's reporting telegrams are
available on the Bucharest SIPRNET Website:
www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/bucharest .

DELARE

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