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PDL – the last battle for Traian Băsescu

Traian Băsescu is heading for his last battle, and there are growing chances that this should not be just a metaphor. In an older feature in Cadran Politic, back in 2007 I think, I was saying that decoupling the parliamentary elections from the presidential one would completely change the paradigm, turning the presidential candidate from a party locomotive into a simple car. Relations between the party and the candidate would be changed, and sooner or later the presidential nominee would lose leverage.

In the Mircea Geoană-Social Democratic Party relationship, things have been clear from the very beginning, with a president fully subordinated to the party and put on the shelf after his election defeat. The same thing happens today with Traian Băsescu and the Liberal Democrats. The president’s influence on the Democrats has gradually shrunk, and the economic crisis only deepened this process: it significantly enhanced the erosion of voter confidence, therefore the party cannot hope for too much in the forthcoming election. As such, the president’s only „technical“ strength, namely the nomination of the prime minister in 2012, is no longer of much interest to the Democrats.

Two failed terms in office

The approaching separation between the president and the party has made the former uneasy and his various mouthpieces, such as fairytale author Sebastian Lăzăroiu, nervous. So far, the score sheet is relatively balanced. The party won in several cases, while in others the president had it his own way. A proof that the situation is serious is that Traian Băsescu has given up all efforts to go through the motions of a democratic game. The interview on the public TV channel is telling in this respect. While his statements do not necessarily make Traian Băsescu a „dictator“, when he announces, casually, that he will not appoint the opposition leader as prime minister because he finds the latter immature, or when he directly and forcibly intervenes in the internal conflicts in a political party, he goes way beyond the constitutional frame­work (not to mention that he labels X or Y as corrupt or clean even before the court does).
After all, it doesn’t necessarily take an efficient political police corps like Nicolae Ceauşescu’s Securitate to build a dictatorship. The „enlightened“ vision of a leader with no one left to contradict him would do (the muttering and low-key criticism play the same role as the Ceauşescu jokes of the past, tolerated by the regime at that time). On the contrary, the political police would stand in the way. The political party staff selection schemes, the mass media subordinated to various interests, the civil society and corrupt opinion leaders make things much simpler. The Securitate’s „black Volga car“ takes other forms today, more efficient than prison, and Traian Băsescu champions these methods.
His constant attacks against Parlia­ment („they’ll get what they fear most“) and other public institutions (except for intelligence services), getting institu­tions involved in his personal wars (as it happened with the Interior Ministry in his battle against Vasile Blaga), his non­chalant disregard for the Consti­tution and the parliamentary majority—all these severely affect the minimal gains entailed by the December 1989 Revolution.
The president’s „accidental“ drop­ping of the „Porumbacu“ codename, based on 2-3-year old Internet garbage, or his calling Victor Ponta „a little mon­key,“ also indicate an unprece­dented degradation of the presidential institu­tion, both domestically and at an international level, where „matches“ with his French counterpart have become a tradition (but foreign policy has never been the president’s strength in the first place).
For all these reasons, Traian Bă­sescu’s terms in office have damaged the Romanian democracy more than Ion Iliescu’s first term, with the miners’ riots and all. At least they had the excuse of having just parted with communism. Today, we live in a society that is just as segregated, violent and aggressive as it was back then, although 20 years have passed and the rising living standards should have eased frustrations away.

„A bad hand“

This is not the first time when Traian Băsescu is dealt a bad hand. He tried more than once to find an alternative to Emil Boc, but failed, which confirms that he lacks good judgement in choosing his aides. The „reforming“ trio was a huge disap­pointment, Baconschi fell short of expectations, Elena Udrea is not an option, in spite of the money pumped into local leaders, and the initial proposal of Ghiţă Falcă was a bad joke. For lack of anything better, keeping Emil Boc may guarantee the status-quo.
What the Democrats don’t seem to understand is why they should once again leave power. Since they have already made the sacrifice and lost most chances for the 2012 elections, why not see their term in office through? Replacing Emil Boc now would be a political mistake for PDL, because:
It would confirm the failure of the government (we should keep in mind that Emil Boc has been dismissed by Parliament once before, and only a violation of the Constitution—with the support of Hungarian MPs—enabled him to return).
A „technocratic“ government would bring political benefits to Traian Băsescu, instead of the Democratic Party, and may pave the way for a new party splintering from PDL.
This would reduce the benefits for local leaders (tiny as these may be, they are welcome in times of crisis).
There are slim—if any— chances for a new government to pass; nothing prevents the opposition from forming a majority that would force a prime minister on Traian Băsescu, and in case he rejects the proposal we might see him get impeached.

The Moor Has Done His Duty, the Moor Should Go

In political terms, Emil Boc is currently left with few resources. With next to no credibility, without public approval and authority in the party, he has nothing left to give to the Democratic Party. I agree, he did sacri­fice himself in a difficult moment, but he had a kamikaze role. „The Moor has done his duty, the Moor may go“.
For Boc to cling on on to politics would mean to reiterate the ridiculous performances of the likes of Victor Ciorbea or Radu Vasile. By continuing to wage a war that is no longer his own, Emil Boc denies his own chance of being rehabilitated at some point (because, aside from the unprofes­sional imple­mentation and miscom­mu­nication, some of the measures taken by the Boc Cabinet are correct, although we can speak about a surgeon’s job done by a butcher). The same happened with Victor Ciorbea, whose reforms paved the way for the economic growth witnessed under the Năstase Cabinet, although he was as criticised as Emil Boc is today. But he, too, chose to make a total fool of himself.
Emil Boc stands slim chances to win, and a prospective resignation from his prime minister position would make him completely vulnerable. In any case, for PDL he would be a poorer solution than Vasile Blaga, who would at least ensure some organisational coherence, the leadership that the party currently lacks, and, more importantly, a relatively normal relation with the other political parties, which may give hopes to the Democrats concerning their chances to stay close to Power. A prospective victory of Blaga would reopen the 2012 battle. A Democratic Party with 15-20% of the votes would be quite attractive for the Social Democratic Party. It would also be attractive to the Liberals, possibly after they get rid of Crin Antonescu, who is increasingly uninspiring and fatigued, facing the growing opposition within his own party.
„Traian, You’re the Best!“
President Băsescu’s attack against Blaga proves that he is rather annoyed with Blaga’s candidacy, and this is yet another tactical error. We recall the moment when Traian Băsescu said there was no chance for Blaga, Ber­ceanu and ­Videanu to be government members, and yet, after a night-time visit to Cotroceni, the next day all three of them were ministers. Although he forced them out of the government later on, the game is not over yet. With a hostile party leadership, Traian Bă­sescu is completely isolated not only at an international level, but in the do­mestic political arena as well. PDL was virtually the only party that still acknowledged him as the president of the country. His impeachment may now be a mere technicality. In fact, Vasile Blaga has already given him a harsh reply, and seems by no means impressed with the president’s support for another candidate.
Unlike the president, who has little left to offer to the Liberal Democratic Party, other than the threat to remove them from power, Blaga may guarantee to Boc (and implicitly to the party) that they would stay in power until 2012 and have better collaboration prospects with the other political parties.
On the other hand, Blaga is not particularly an enchanter of the masses, as his failed candidacy to the Bucharest City Hall proved. While he may prove able to keep PDL strong and efficient, his election success is questionable. In any case, his performance in the gover­n­ment so far drastically reduces the Democrats’ electoral potential, regard­less of who will win. But for the presi­dent, this will be the moment when someone tells him, „Traian, you’re the best!“ And that someone may be Elena Udrea herself.

by Cristian BANU

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