It’s just a few days until the next presidential elections in Romania and I can’t help but wonder: how could positive change happen in a country where politics has, for so long, been riddled with nepotism, corruption and more generally by a lack of sense of civic duty?
Last year, a European Union survey on corruption showed 93% of Romanians thought corruption was widespread in their country, with about 1 in 4 people likely to have been expected or asked to pay a bribe.
Corruption, red tape bureaucracy and a lack of professional ethics in the political system create inefficiencies and hinder progress where otherwise human, economic and eco-friendly growth opportunities are massively available. So how is it that 25 years after the fall of the communist regime, the political class is largely as inefficient and as corrupt? Whose responsibility is it to clean up politics and make things better?
Admittedly, a strong and healthy civil society helps balance the political class. NGOs and civil society leaders help monitor the actions of politicians, expose their breach of duty and uphold them to a sense of public good moral obligation. The popular movements against the mining project of Rosia Montana, for example, made waves well beyond Romanian borders.
Business and entrepreneurs play a critical role as well. They innovate and re-invent the future, they make best use of available resources and come up with new ones, they create prosperity and jobs, and in the process contribute tax revenue to the public purse. Groups such as the Romanian Business Leaders Foundation, for example, are working to engage entrepreneurs in the society and have them apply their entrepreneurial ability to solving societal problems.
But none of those efforts are enough. Seen from the outside, behind political doors the current Romanian political class resembles a tightly knit, old-age, inefficient, incoherent block whose inertia trickles down into the economy. The business of politics became politics, to paraphrase a quote by Friedman. And that is wrong. The business of politics should be the public good. The public sector has a key normative role and should deploy good, competent capacity towards enabling each individual and each individual entity in the economy to realize their best potential.
We know it well: real, sustainable change comes from within. And so change will only come from within the political class itself. A new generation of presidential candidates this year are breaking with the norm and promise to shake the establishment, breathe some hope and break away from old politics. They have the potential to bring professionalism, ethics and a stark discipline of public good accountability back into the political system. The votes will tell if Romania is ready to break with the past.
Changing political course, for the better, from within, is the best thing that can happen to Romania this year.