"...finding a balance between using kid gloves and attacking your opponent is very difficult..."Nearly all the pre-debate coverage last week tried to draw lessons from the US experience of presidential elections. But it’s not just the US that has them. Romania has had televised presidential debates since 1994, just four years after the revolution.
And to Romanian eyes, the British debates featured the typical British politeness of the candidates who barely engaged in any juicy attacks or cynical remarks, an audience so overwhelmed that the individuals asking questions had trembling voices when reading them from a piece of paper, the studio so grey it might remind one of the ’60s quiz games on black-and-white TV sets.
The most recent Romanian Presidential TV debate took place less than six months ago, on 4 December 2009, just two days before the vote, with 4 million people watching, out of a population of 22 million. And if there is anything to learn from it, it is that finding a balance between using kid gloves and attacking your opponent is very difficult.
Mircea Geoana, the leader of the Socialist opposition party, was leading in the polls for the whole period before the election. Moreover, footage had just been released on the incumbent Traian Basescu hitting a 10-year-old boy in the face at a presidential rally. Mr Basescu's campaign said the 18-second video that showed the president striking the boy was a dirty trick and the footage was "seriously altered", but by the night of the confrontation it had been shown dozens of times on television news channels, seen thousands of times online, debated incessantly, and become a major topic of everyday TV studio/ street conversation.
By assuming it had been vulgarized enough in the four days before the debate and that his winning card was talking mainly policy agendas and manifestoes, Mr. Geoana ignored the elephant in the room entirely. It was Mr. Basescu, who had all to lose in his bid for a second mandate, and with the leading two Romanian News TV channels against him, who brought it up. He found the balance between stressing the achievements of his administration, and accusing his opponent of protecting former “Securitatea” (Romanian Secret Police) and of running a dishonest campaign (with reference to the ‘fake’ video).
Basescu went on to win.
Oana Elisabeta Pop