ROME (Dec. 11)
One of Europe’s most notorious right-wing extremists lost the runoff vote in Romania’s presidential elections, but vowed to continue making himself heard.
In Sunday’s second round vote, Corneliu Vadim Tudor lost by a 2-1 margin against Ion Iliescu, who served as Romanian president from 1990 to 1996.
Still, Tudor’s Greater Romania Party will become Romania’s main opposition force in Parliament as a result of an earlier round of balloting in late November.
Vowing not to go quietly into obscurity, Tudor warned in a post-election statement, “This anti-national government will find it difficult to overlook us in Parliament.”
A flamboyant publisher infamous for printing anti-Semitic and other xenophobic diatribes, Tudor, 51, claimed fraud and vowed to contest the vote.
Iliescu, the 70-year-old former Communist who scored the crushing victory over Tudor, told cheering supporters Sunday night that the vote was “a categorical rejection of extremism, xenophobia and totalitarian temptations at a crucial moment for the nation.
“We promise we are going to accelerate the process of the dignified integration of Romania into the European Union and NATO,” he said. “As the head of state, I will assure that this promise becomes reality.”
With more than 98 percent of the votes counted, Iliescu had nearly 67 percent, compared to Tudor’s 33 percent.
In first-round elections Nov. 26, Iliescu came in first out of a dozen candidates, with Tudor a surprise second.
Tudor’s crushing defeat in Sunday’s run-off was a relief for Romanian Jews, who had feared for the future of both their country and their community had he won.
About 12,000 Jews, mainly elderly, live in Romania, about half in Bucharest.
The Romanian Jewish Federation issued a statement before Sunday’s vote saying that Tudor had been “a staunch enemy of the Jews” in Romania for many years and had repeatedly displayed anti-Semitism and xenophobia.
“It is the duty of the federation, which has always fought the dangerous revival of extremism, to condemn the anti-Semitic deeds and words of Corneliu Vadim Tudor,” it said. “Mr. Tudor displays a xenophobia which endangers normal cohabitation between the majority and national minorities.
“We issue a warning both in Romania and abroad against Tudor’s xenophobic activities, which aim to fool naive people and to poison relations” between different ethnic groups, the statement said.
International Jewish organizations also had warned of repercussions if Tudor became president.
But Jewish and other observers said the size of Iliescu’s victory could be seen more as a vote against Tudor than for Iliescu.
As one of Romania’s newspapers said in a headline Monday, “Better a retiree than a dictator.”
Iliescu took steps during his earlier term to admit Romania’s role in the Holocaust and to support Jewish causes, but he is distrusted by many for his communist past and for the cronyism, economic malaise and other ills that marked his previous administration.