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Preparations for the final confruntation

Ever since the beginning of his presidential term in office, the key strategy followed by Traian Băsescu was aimed at dividing the political arena, both in terms of relationships between parties, and of interactions between their various factions. The tactic consisted in the polarisation by affinities with the presidential initiatives. By bringing together dissident groups and factions, with PD as a nucleus, Traian Băsescu targeted the establishment of a presidential coalition, able to take over the dominant party position from PSD.

But his calculations failed to take into account that in this polarisation, the scales might be tipped in favour of the President’s opponents, rather than of his supporters. The miscalculation thus led to precisely the opposite of what the President hoped for: all parties, except for PD and PLD, joined forces against Traian Băsescu. The result was that Parliament approved the proposal to impeach the President by a landslide.
At present, the Romanian political life focuses on the referendum on the President’s impeachment, with each of the two poles moving to achieve their stated goals. Traian Băsescu, backed by PD and PLD, launched an appeal to the civil society, requesting its support. In the current social-political context, the message of the political class as a whole is affected by an almost dramatic fall in credibility, which is why the only voice still paid heed to is that of the civil society. Which is precisely why the suspended President resorted to the support of the civil society, which he needs just as much as he needs the organisational support provided by parties. Traian Băsescu has so far benefited from a privileged relationship with the civil society, partly due to his support to Monica Macovei. As for his relationship with political parties, apart from the expected backing by the Democrats, the suspended President also gets a helping hand from Theodor Stolojan’s party. The suspension brought Traian Băsescu closer to his former party, from which he had taken a distance lately. This regrouping benefits both the Head of State, which gets to use the logistic means of the party, and the Democrats, who rely on the strong leader’s image to meet their immediate electoral objective: the EP elections. The disadvantages of this unconditional association will be evident in case of referendum failure. Further, the privileged relationship with Theodor Stolojan and the support given by his party helps outline the image of the “real D.A. Alliance,” although PD and PLD denied having signed any protocol. Moreover, the two parties seem to be competing for capitalising on the positive consequences of a prospective referendum victory. However, cooperation is in the best immediate interest of both Traian Băsescu and the two parties, insofar as it is the only solution to overcome their isolation and mobilise the electorate in view of winning the referendum.
The anti-presidential coalition is made up of the other parliamentary parties —PSD, PC, PNL, UDMR and PRM. The association of these parties, some of which make up conflicting pairs — e.g. UDMR and PRM or PSD and PNL — makes this coalition a rather heterogeneous one. The discrepancies between the ideologies and doctrines of these parties are a destabilising factor, particularly since they only share one short-term objective: to depose Traian Băsescu. In this respect, the current political arena is not very different from the 2004 one, in which parties joined forces against PSD and Ion Iliescu. The difference is that this time around the target is Traian Băsescu. Moreover, recent history has proved that coalitions based on little or no ideological affinity cannot survive unless they set long-term objectives. The newly formed anti-presidential coalition stands no chances of political survival, especially since member parties are competing, each of them seeking to be legitimised as Traian Băsescu’s main opponent.
Polls indicate that Traian Băsescu will be reconfirmed as President, therefore the actual goals of the two referendum campaigns are rather to maximise the impact of the final result, and to mitigate it, respectively. On the one hand, the suspended President and the two parties which back him up want a decisive victory, whose echo will be likely to provide PD and PLD with a considerable advantage in the elections for the European Parliament. With a significant change in the electoral scores indicated by polls rather unlikely, the main objective of the presidential coalition is to mobilise the pro-Băsescu electorate, rather than to persuade new categories of public to vote for him. The main hindrance to Traian Băsescu’s reconfirmation is not the inadequate electoral support, but the people’s lack of interest in the referendum endeavour.
On the other hand, the anti-presidential coalition seeks not so much to remove Traian Băsescu immediately, but rather to downplay his victory. The president’s opponents will claim that his legitimacy is actually low. Further, during the one-month suspension in which PSD has the interim president position, the levers to operate the changes needed in order to reduce Traian Băsescu’s subsequent power are in his enemies’ hands. It may well be that the President’s opponents don’t actually want Băsescu removed further to the referendum; a legitimacy perceived as low and limited room to manoeuvre may be enough to seriously erode him by the next presidential elections.
To conclude, given both sides’ sustained effort to meet their goals, as well as the possible emergence of new elements able to reverse current trends, we can only say that the referendum result remains uncertain, although polls indicate a relatively stable public perception at the moment. Furthermore, developments in the political arena largely depend not so much on the actual referendum figures, but on their generally accepted interpretation, and on the course of action each of the sides will embark upon, both during the campaign and after the referendum.

by Arthur Suciu

Publicat în : English  de la numărul 47
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