PRESIDENTIAL elections often turn on which candidate is worse, not better. Never was this truer than of Romania's presidential runoff tomorrow.
It is hard to imagine a less likely candidate to lead Romania into European institutions than the old Stalinist, Ion Iliescu. Yet he came in first in the 12-way presidential election Nov. 26.
Mr. Iliescu fell afoul of the cult dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and eventually helped bring him down. His own presidency, 1990-1996, did not convincingly bring Romania out of its Communist past.
But someone worse did come along. Corneliu Vadim Tudor, a senator, polemicist and head of the Greater Romania Party, promises anybody anything and fans hatred of Gypsies, Jews and Hungarians.
Mr. Tudor came in second in the first round with 27 percent of the vote. Demagogues cater to the powerless in a corrupt system. His rhetoric menaces Hungary and Moldova, a former Romanian province incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940 and declared independent in 1991.
Mr. Tudor, 51, is often compared to Austria's Joerg Haider or France's Jean Marie Le Pen. His use of hate resembles the politics of Serbia's former President Slobodan Milosevic and Croatia's late President Franjo Tudjman. Despite his current anti-communism and promises to end corruption with a machine gun, he served dictator Ceausescu as court poet.
Mr. Tudor terrifies Western European leaders combating extremism in their own and neighboring countries. Their vision of a post-national Europe with porous borders has no place for it.
So dangerous is the prospect of a Tudor presidency that the third-place candidate in the first round, the centrist Valeriu Stoica, bit his lip and endorsed the old Communist Mr. Iliescu in the runoff.
So must anyone who wants to hasten Romania's rightful destiny in the heart of a united and peaceful Europe.