Democratic politics began rather uneasily in Romania. On 22 December 1989, Ceauşescu fled from Bucharest and on the very same day, the National Salvation Front (NSF) was set up, with Ion Iliescu as its chairman. On 26 December, Iliescu was appointed interim President of Romania and Petre Roman Prime Minister. Rapidly, the nature of the NSF changed from being an umbrella organisation to becoming a political party and indeed to becoming the dominant political party. Competitive elections were announced for May 1990 and these were expected to favour markedly the NSF, because it enjoyed manifest advantages and in particular could benefit from the resources of the state and from a commanding position in the media, while the opposition was very divided. The NSF seemed likely to perpetuate the communist system under another name, as was to occur in some of the states that emerged from the Soviet Union.
Iliescu was indeed popular, especially in the provinces, even if there were to be some doubts about the extent to which the massive 85 per cent of the votes which he received at the presidential election was truly fair. Meanwhile, the NSF obtained 65 per cent of the votes and 263 of the 385 seats in the lower house, with the party of the Hungarian minority party, the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (HDUR) coming second with 7 per cent of the votes; 1 the rest of the electors cast their ballots across a large number of parties.
As a result of the 1990 election, Romania had ceased to be a full single-party system but it appeared to be dominated by a ‘charismatic’, yet also rather ruthless leader supported by a dominant party. Indeed, the government began to embark in a policy of repression of dissent. Demonstrators who protested against what seemed to have been ‘irregularities’ in the election and who had occupied Bucharest University were forcefully dispersed by miners whom the president had called to defend the new regime against its opponents.