Romania

   

Quality of Democracy

#38
Key Findings
With continuing tension between the government and civil society, Romania falls into the bottom ranks internationally (rank 38) with regard to democracy quality. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.4 points since 2014.

Political parties routinely circumvent campaign financing laws, with sanctions rare even in blatant cases. The government has significant influence over the public media, while private media owners often trade good coverage for favors from politicians. A high-profile referendum campaign against same-sex marriage, supported by the government, failed due to insufficient turnout.

Civil rights are generally respected, but preventive detentions and security-service surveillance activities have drawn criticism. Massive street protests have continued, with civil-society groups protesting modifications to the criminal code and the constitution. The state has not effectively countered discrimination against LGBT people, individuals with disabilities and members of the Roma community.

The government has sought to undermine judicial independence, sparking a fierce political battle and EU-level criticism. The head of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA), widely deemed effective, was dismissed. The government’s attacks on the DNA, combined with funding cuts, have limited its ability to fight corruption.

Electoral Processes

#39

How fair are procedures for registering candidates and parties?

10
 9

Legal regulations provide for a fair registration procedure for all elections; candidates and parties are not discriminated against.
 8
 7
 6


A few restrictions on election procedures discriminate against a small number of candidates and parties.
 5
 4
 3


Some unreasonable restrictions on election procedures exist that discriminate against many candidates and parties.
 2
 1

Discriminating registration procedures for elections are widespread and prevent a large number of potential candidates or parties from participating.
Candidacy Procedures
7
Electoral legislation was amended in the first half of 2015 with an eye to the local and parliamentary elections in 2016. One amendment substantially lowered the typically high stakes involved in establishing a political party. Moreover, the requirement to submit financial deposits for candidate registration was lifted, and citizens have been allowed to support multiple candidates and parties with their signatures. Partly as a result of these changes, the number of parties participating in the parliamentary elections in December 2016 was relatively high.

A major problem that has not been addressed in the period under review, has been the candidacy rules for the four deputies and two senators elected by the Romanian diaspora. As criticized by the Federation of Romanians’ Associations in Europe and others, diaspora candidates were discriminated against in the 2016 parliamentary elections because they were required to collect 6,090 signatures rather than 1,000 to enter the race. Moreover, their electoral colleges extend across several countries, impeding the collection of required signatures.

Citations:
OSCE/ODIHR (2016): Needs Assessment Mission Report: Romania, Parliamentary Elections 11 December 2016, Warsaw, 6 (http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/romania/278346?download=true).

To what extent do candidates and parties have fair access to the media and other means of communication?

10
 9

All candidates and parties have equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communication. All major media outlets provide a fair and balanced coverage of the range of different political positions.
 8
 7
 6


Candidates and parties have largely equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communication. The major media outlets provide a fair and balanced coverage of different political positions.
 5
 4
 3


Candidates and parties often do not have equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communication. While the major media outlets represent a partisan political bias, the media system as a whole provides fair coverage of different political positions.
 2
 1

Candidates and parties lack equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communications. The major media outlets are biased in favor of certain political groups or views and discriminate against others.
Media Access
5
Campaign coverage by broadcast media, both private and public, is subject to detailed and complex regulations. The law provides for free access to public television and radio for all parliamentary parties to promote their platforms. Such access is also granted to non-parliamentary parties that submit full candidate lists in at least 23 constituencies. Broadcasting time granted by public and private broadcasters and editorial boards must ensure non-discriminatory conditions. However, the monitoring capacity and the sanctioning power of the National Audiovisual Council, the regulatory body in charge, are limited. Media access in a broader sense is uneven, as the public media has been susceptible to governmental and parliamentary influence, while private media is biased by its owners’ political and economic interests. Talk-show hosts and political programs seldom invite speakers with views other than those of the media outlet’s owner, and politicians and companies that buy ads often ask media outlets to refrain from criticizing them.

Citations:
OSCE/ODIHR (2016): Needs Assessment Mission Report: Romania, Parliamentary Elections 11 December 2016, Warsaw, 8-9 (http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/romania/278346?download=true).

To what extent do all citizens have the opportunity to exercise their right of participation in national elections?

10
 9

All adult citizens can participate in national elections. All eligible voters are registered if they wish to be. There are no discriminations observable in the exercise of the right to vote. There are no disincentives to voting.
 8
 7
 6


The procedures for the registration of voters and voting are for the most part effective, impartial and nondiscriminatory. Citizens can appeal to courts if they feel being discriminated. Disincentives to voting generally do not constitute genuine obstacles.
 5
 4
 3


While the procedures for the registration of voters and voting are de jure non-discriminatory, isolated cases of discrimination occur in practice. For some citizens, disincentives to voting constitute significant obstacles.
 2
 1

The procedures for the registration of voters or voting have systemic discriminatory effects. De facto, a substantial number of adult citizens are excluded from national elections.
Voting and Registration Rights
6
Citizens aged 18 years or older on election day are eligible to vote, unless disenfranchised by a final court decision for reasons of legal incapacity or as part of a judicial sentence. There is a central voter register based on a compilation of information from various government authorities. To minimize voter fraud, which has been a major issue in the past, Teamnet was awarded a RON 31 million contract to provide high-tech voting equipment to monitor whether voters have their voting rights in good standing and cast only one ballot. In the constitutional referendum in October 2018, however, the electronic system for the verification of voters and prevention of multiple voting was not used. This led to situations where the presidents of the electoral bureaus suspected that multiple voting had taken place but they could not verify this and public trust in the process suffered as a result.

The fact that thousands of Romanians abroad were unable to cast their votes in the 2014 presidential elections prompted the introduction of a postal vote for diaspora voters in November 2015. However, less than 10,000 out of more than 600,000 Romanians abroad participated in the 2016 parliamentary elections. Information was weak, voters had to register with the Permanent Electoral Authority before the vote and the authorities asked for proof of residence before registration, which deterred many Romanians who feared that Romania’s Tax Authority would use that information to trigger an investigation against them. These problems have not been addressed during the period under review.

Citations:
Expert Forum (2018): Raport de monitrozare: Referendum 2018. Policy Brief No. 68, Bucharest (https://expertforum.ro/en/referendum-report-2018/).

To what extent is private and public party financing and electoral campaign financing transparent, effectively monitored and in case of infringement of rules subject to proportionate and dissuasive sanction?

10
 9

The state enforces that donations to political parties are made public and provides for independent monitoring to that respect. Effective measures to prevent evasion are effectively in place and infringements subject to effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions.
 8
 7
 6


The state enforces that donations to political parties are made public and provides for independent monitoring. Although infringements are subject to proportionate sanctions, some, although few, loopholes and options for circumvention still exist.
 5
 4
 3


The state provides that donations to political parties shall be published. Party financing is subject to some degree of independent monitoring but monitoring either proves regularly ineffective or proportionate sanctions in case of infringement do not follow.
 2
 1

The rules for party and campaign financing do not effectively enforce the obligation to make the donations public. Party and campaign financing is neither monitored independently nor, in case of infringements, subject to proportionate sanctions.
Party Financing
5
The legal framework for party and campaign financing was amended in 2016. One important amendment has required parties to declare all contributions received along with the sums earmarked for television ads and posters while identifying the contributors. A second amendment strengthened the obligation of parties to document the use of public funds, which constitute a significant portion of party resources. While these amendments have enhanced the transparency and accountability of party financing, other changes have pointed in the opposite direction. In early 2016, the two biggest parties, PSD and PNL, both highly indebted, colluded and reduced the possibility for creditors to get their money back from parties. However, the main problem still is lagging implementation. Parties circumvent regulations through a variety of methods such as the creation of fictitious positions and party structures, thus enabling them to hide additional sources of income. As a result, spending by parties and candidates surpasses their declared resources, and true donor support exceeds parties’ stated income. Sanctions are rare even in cases of blatant legal breaches.

Do citizens have the opportunity to take binding political decisions when they want to do so?

10
 9

Citizens have the effective opportunity to actively propose and take binding decisions on issues of importance to them through popular initiatives and referendums. The set of eligible issues is extensive, and includes national, regional, and local issues.
 8
 7
 6


Citizens have the effective opportunity to take binding decisions on issues of importance to them through either popular initiatives or referendums. The set of eligible issues covers at least two levels of government.
 5
 4
 3


Citizens have the effective opportunity to vote on issues of importance to them through a legally binding measure. The set of eligible issues is limited to one level of government.
 2
 1

Citizens have no effective opportunity to vote on issues of importance to them through a legally binding measure.
Popular Decision-Making
4
According to the Romanian constitution, national referendums are required automatically for any revision to the constitution (as happened in 1991 and 2003) and following the impeachment of the president (as in 2007 and 2012). In addition, the president can (after consultation with parliament) call for referendums on matters of national interest, as in the case of the 2007 electoral-system referendum and the 2009 referendum on parliamentary reform. For referendum results to be legally binding, turnout needs to be above a certain threshold, which was lowered from 50% to 30% by a law passed in May 2013. At the national level, citizens do not have the general right to initiate a referendum. However, if more than 500,000 citizens support a change in the constitution, parliament can approve a revision, which then must pass a nationwide referendum. At the county level, citizens can initiate referendums. However, such initiatives are subject to approval by the County Council and have remained rare.

During the period under review, one national referendum was held in October 2018 on whether or not the constitution should be amended to restrict the definition of a “union” as that between a man and a woman and thereby enshrine a more restrictive definition of marriage within the constitution. The referendum followed an almost two-year long campaign by the conservative Coalition for Family (Coalitia pentru Familie), a coalition of non-governmental organizations aiming to “preserve the traditional family” amid fears that the current wording might favor the legal recognition of same-sex relationships. The initiative for a referendum was supported by the governing PSD/ALDE coalition which had announced several times its intent to hold a referendum, eventually calling it on short notice. The referendum suffered from a number of irregularities, including the extension of the voting period to two days by a government emergency ordinance, arbitrary decisions regarding continued campaigning during the days on which the referendum was held and a lenient approach toward multiple voting. Ultimately, with just over 20% of Romanians casting a ballot in the referendum, it failed to meet the minimum voter turnout threshold of 30% and therefore did not pass.

Citations:
Expert Forum (2018): There can be no referendum in October or November. Policy Brief No. 66, Bucharest (https://expertforum.ro/en/disaster-referendum-law/).
Expert Forum (2018): Raport de monitrozare: Referendum 2018. Policy Brief No. 68, Bucharest (https://expertforum.ro/en/referendum-report-2018/).

Access to Information

#39

To what extent are the media independent from government?

10
 9

Public and private media are independent from government influence; their independence is institutionally protected and fully respected by the incumbent government.
 8
 7
 6


The incumbent government largely respects the independence of media. However, there are occasional attempts to exert influence.
 5
 4
 3


The incumbent government seeks to ensure its political objectives indirectly by influencing the personnel policies, organizational framework or financial resources of public media, and/or the licensing regime/market access for private media.
 2
 1

Major media outlets are frequently influenced by the incumbent government promoting its partisan political objectives. To ensure pro-government media reporting, governmental actors exert direct political pressure and violate existing rules of media regulation or change them to benefit their interests.
Media Freedom
3
In Romania, the independence of the media is limited. The government exerts strong control over the public media, as can be seen by the way the latter have covered anti-government protests. The 2017 decision to abolish the existing TV-radio fee and to have the public media financed directly out of the central government budget, hidden in a list of popular tax cuts, has further increased the political control of the public media. Most private media owners have ties to national and local politicians and serve them in exchange for favors. Many private media spread fake news, with the regulatory body doing almost nothing to discipline these outlets.

Citations:
Expert Forum (2018): Media Clientelism in Romania 2016-2018. Policy Brief No. 63, Bucharest (https://expertforum.ro/en/media-clientelism-in-romania-2016-2018/).

Gross, P. (2015): (Happily) Living in Sin: Media and Politics in Romania, in: Southeastern Europe 39(1): 12-34.

To what extent are the media characterized by an ownership structure that ensures a pluralism of opinions?

10
 9

Diversified ownership structures characterize both the electronic and print media market, providing a well-balanced pluralism of opinions. Effective anti-monopoly policies and impartial, open public media guarantee a pluralism of opinions.
 8
 7
 6


Diversified ownership structures prevail in the electronic and print media market. Public media compensate for deficiencies or biases in private media reporting by representing a wider range of opinions.
 5
 4
 3


Oligopolistic ownership structures characterize either the electronic or the print media market. Important opinions are represented but there are no or only weak institutional guarantees against the predominance of certain opinions.
 2
 1

Oligopolistic ownership structures characterize both the electronic and the print media market. Few companies dominate the media, most programs are biased, and there is evidence that certain opinions are not published or are marginalized.
Media Pluralism
4
There is a large number of different media outlets in Romania, suggesting that Romanians have access to a multitude of information sources. But these sources lack diversity and predominantly represent the views of the main political parties. The share of private media owners directly or indirectly involved in national and local politics has increased. Formally, private media are often owned by offshore companies or non-transparent investment funds.

To what extent can citizens obtain official information?

10
 9

Legal regulations guarantee free and easy access to official information, contain few, reasonable restrictions, and there are effective mechanisms of appeal and oversight enabling citizens to access information.
 8
 7
 6


Access to official information is regulated by law. Most restrictions are justified, but access is sometimes complicated by bureaucratic procedures. Existing appeal and oversight mechanisms permit citizens to enforce their right of access.
 5
 4
 3


Access to official information is partially regulated by law, but complicated by bureaucratic procedures and some poorly justified restrictions. Existing appeal and oversight mechanisms are often ineffective.
 2
 1

Access to official information is not regulated by law; there are many restrictions of access, bureaucratic procedures and no or ineffective mechanisms of enforcement.
Access to Government Information
6
Law 544/2001, known as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), ensures citizens’ access to public information. Its remit creates obligations for all central and local state institutions, as well as public companies for which the state is the majority shareholder. Along with ministries, central agencies and local governments, public universities, hospitals, and many off-budget central and local public companies have to comply with the terms of law 544. However, actual enforcement differs from the terms of the existing legislation. Privacy and secrecy considerations often trump the transparency principle.

Civil Rights and Political Liberties

#35

To what extent does the state respect and protect civil rights and how effectively are citizens protected by courts against infringements of their rights?

10
 9

All state institutions respect and effectively protect civil rights. Citizens are effectively protected by courts against infringements of their rights. Infringements present an extreme exception.
 8
 7
 6


The state respects and protects rights, with few infringements. Courts provide protection.
 5
 4
 3


Despite formal protection, frequent infringements of civil rights occur and court protection often proves ineffective.
 2
 1

State institutions respect civil rights only formally, and civil rights are frequently violated. Court protection is not effective.
Civil Rights
5
Civil rights are guaranteed by the constitution and are generally respected in practice. Romania responded to the decision by the European Court of Human Rights by adopting a new civil procedure order, which came into effect in February 2013. However, court protection has continued to suffer as a result of long and unpredictable proceedings. There is no equal access to the law since well-positioned individuals, including politicians, are given preference by the courts. More specific concerns have been raised by the disproportionate use of preventive detention, often in conflagration of European legal standards, the bad conditions in Romanian prisons, and the large-scale surveillance activities of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI). During the period of review, the involvement of the SRI in the penal investigations conducted by the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) continued to violate the right to a fair investigation and the presumption of innocence. NGO legislation introduced by the governing coalition in 2017 has weakened watchdog organizations in the field of civil rights.

To what extent does the state concede and protect political liberties?

10
 9

All state institutions concede and effectively protect political liberties.
 8
 7
 6


All state institutions for the most part concede and protect political liberties. There are only few infringements.
 5
 4
 3


State institutions concede political liberties but infringements occur regularly in practice.
 2
 1

Political liberties are unsatisfactory codified and frequently violated.
Political Liberties
7
Romanians have made significant use of their political liberties throughout 2018, with multiple anti-government and anti-corruption demonstrations taking place throughout the country. In January 2018, thousands gathered in Bucharest and other major cities to protest against amendments made to laws and criminal codes. In May 2018, an estimated 5,000 gathered in Victoria Square to continue protesting the modification of the criminal codes, the attempt to change DNA leadership and proposed modifications to the constitution. In June 2018, over 2,000 protesters who walked 12 kilometers in Sibiu demanded for the resignation of the PSD’s Dragnea and Prime Minister Dăncilă, following Dragnea’s Supreme Court conviction for instigating abuse. Finally, on August 10, protests in Bucharest and other major cities were attended by an estimated 150,000 people – the largest number since February of 2017. However, the protesters and some of the NGOs involved faced a smear campaign by the governing coalition. In some cases, the confrontation between the protesters and the police raised questions about crowd control and the conduct of the Romanian police. The protests on August 10 left about 450 treated for injuries behind.

How effectively does the state protect against different forms of discrimination?

10
 9

State institutions effectively protect against and actively prevent discrimination. Cases of discrimination are extremely rare.
 8
 7
 6


State anti-discrimination protections are moderately successful. Few cases of discrimination are observed.
 5
 4
 3


State anti-discrimination efforts show limited success. Many cases of discrimination can be observed.
 2
 1

The state does not offer effective protection against discrimination. Discrimination is widespread in the public sector and in society.
Non-discrimination
5
The Romanian state has been ineffective in countering discrimination against a number of vulnerable groups, including members of the LGBT community, those infected with HIV, people with disabilities, and members of the country’s large Roma community. Massively backed by the governing coalition, the 2018 referendum calling for a constitutional amendment to specifically define a “union” as that between a man and a woman, though ultimately defeated, has fostered discrimination toward the LGBT community. Human Rights Watch criticized the referendum for being “little more than a thinly veiled attempt to scapegoat a vulnerable minority.”

Citations:
Reid, G. (2018): Cynical Romanian Referendum Tries to Redefine ‘Family’. Human Rights Watch, October 3 (https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/10/03/cynical-romanian-referendum-tries-redefine-family).

Rule of Law

#38

To what extent do government and administration act on the basis of and in accordance with legal provisions to provide legal certainty?

10
 9

Government and administration act predictably, on the basis of and in accordance with legal provisions. Legal regulations are consistent and transparent, ensuring legal certainty.
 8
 7
 6


Government and administration rarely make unpredictable decisions. Legal regulations are consistent, but leave a large scope of discretion to the government or administration.
 5
 4
 3


Government and administration sometimes make unpredictable decisions that go beyond given legal bases or do not conform to existing legal regulations. Some legal regulations are inconsistent and contradictory.
 2
 1

Government and administration often make unpredictable decisions that lack a legal basis or ignore existing legal regulations. Legal regulations are inconsistent, full of loopholes and contradict each other.
Legal Certainty
3
Legal certainty has strongly suffered from the tug-of-war over the reform of the judiciary between the government on the one hand and President Iohannis, Prosecutor General Augustin Lazar and the Supreme Council of Magistrates on the other. Moreover, the government has continued its widespread use of government emergency ordinances (OUG) Since Article 115 of the constitution provides for OUGs only in exceptional circumstances, their frequency represents an abuse of the government’s constitutional powers and undermines legal certainty.

To what extent do independent courts control whether government and administration act in conformity with the law?

10
 9

Independent courts effectively review executive action and ensure that the government and administration act in conformity with the law.
 8
 7
 6


Independent courts usually manage to control whether the government and administration act in conformity with the law.
 5
 4
 3


Courts are independent, but often fail to ensure legal compliance.
 2
 1

Courts are biased for or against the incumbent government and lack effective control.
Judicial Review
4
The judicial reforms of the PSL/ALDE government have been aimed at increasing the governmental influence over the judiciary. While the Superior Council of the Magistracy has fiercely defended the independence of the judiciary, the Constitutional Court has often sided with the government. One major change has been the creation of a new prosecutorial section in charge of investigating offenses committed by justices and prosecutors which has been widely perceived as a disciplinary device. In July 2018, Minister of Justice Tudorel Toader eventually succeeded in bringing President Iohannis to dismiss Chief Prosecutor Laura Codruta Kövesi, the head of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA). In October 2018, Toader also initiated the dismissal of Prosecutor General Augustin Lazar, an outspoken critic of the government’s attacks on the judiciary’s independence and integrity. The governing coalition’s attempts to strengthen its control over the judiciary have not only provoked massive protests in Romania but have been criticized by many outside observers as well. The European Commission, under the cooperation and verification mechanism, has warned the government against undoing the progress made in judicial reform.

Citations:
European Commission (2018): Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on Progress in Romania under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism. COM(2018) 851 final, Brussels (https://ec.europa.eu/info/files/progress-report-romania-2018-com-2018-851_en).

Selejan Gutan, B. (2019): New Challenges against the Judiciary in Romania, in: Verfassungsblog, February 22 (https://verfassungsblog.de/new-challenges-against-the-judiciary-in-romania/).

To what extent does the process of appointing (supreme or constitutional court) justices guarantee the independence of the judiciary?

10
 9

Justices are appointed in a cooperative appointment process with special majority requirements.
 8
 7
 6


Justices are exclusively appointed by different bodies with special majority requirements or in a cooperative selection process without special majority requirements.
 5
 4
 3


Justices are exclusively appointed by different bodies without special majority requirements.
 2
 1

All judges are appointed exclusively by a single body irrespective of other institutions.
Appointment of Justices
5
According to Article 142 of Romania’s constitution, every three years three judges are appointed to the Constitutional Court for nine-year terms, with one judge each appointed by the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate and the president of Romania. Since there are no qualified-majority requirements in either the Chamber of Deputies or the Senate, and since these appointments occur independently (i.e., they do not need to be approved by or coordinated with any other institution), Constitutional Court justices are in practice appointed along partisan lines. The last round of appointments of justices took place in 2016.

To what extent are public officeholders prevented from abusing their position for private interests?

10
 9

Legal, political and public integrity mechanisms effectively prevent public officeholders from abusing their positions.
 8
 7
 6


Most integrity mechanisms function effectively and provide disincentives for public officeholders willing to abuse their positions.
 5
 4
 3


Some integrity mechanisms function, but do not effectively prevent public officeholders from abusing their positions.
 2
 1

Public officeholders can exploit their offices for private gain as they see fit without fear of legal consequences or adverse publicity.
Corruption Prevention
4
Corruption has been a major political issue in Romania for some time and has become even more pronounced since the 2016 parliamentary elections. As early as in January 2017, the newly installed PSL/ALDE government launched legislation aimed at decriminalizing and pardoning certain offenses. Broadly understood as an attempt to help politicians and others either accused or convicted of corruption, including PSD leader Liviu Dragnea, these initiatives prompted an unexpectedly strong public outcry that led the government to retract them. Next, the governing coalition has sought to strengthen its influence in the judiciary and to discredit and weaken the much-acclaimed National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA), which has achieved many high-profile convictions. The PSD has attacked the DNA and its combative Chief Prosecutor Laura Codruta Kövesi, referring to her and the DNA as an illegitimate “parallell state.” In a 36-page report in February 2018, Minister of Justice Tudorel Toader stated that the DNA engages in “excessively authoritarian behavior” and that it prioritizes “solving cases with a media impact.” The minister also criticized the DNA for “daring” to comment on legislative proposals, of falsifying wiretap transcripts and failing to investigate abusive acts allegedly committed by prosecutors. After a tug-of-war with President Iohannis, and favored by a controversial Constitutional Court decision in May 2018, Minister Toader eventually succeeded in bringing the president to dismiss Kövesi in July 2018. The attacks on the DNA, combined with its cuts in funding, have limited its capacity to maintain the fight against corruption.

Citations:
European Commission (2018): Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on Progress in Romania under the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism. COM(2018) 851 final, Brussels (https://ec.europa.eu/info/files/progress-report-romania-2018-com-2018-851_en).

Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO)(2018): Ad hoc Report on ROMANIA (Rule 34) Adopted by GRECO at its 79th Plenary Meeting, Strasbourg, March 19-23 (https://www.coe.int/en/web/greco/-/romania-council-of-europe-s-anti-corruption-body-deeply-concerned-about-certain-justice-and-criminal-law-reforms).

Selejan Gutan, B. (2018): The Taming of the Court – When Politics Overcome Law in the Romanian Constitutional Court, in: Verfassungsblog, June 6 (https://verfassungsblog.de/the-taming-of-the-court-when-politics-overcome-law-in-the-romanian-constitutional-court/).
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