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Talking for talking’s sake…

The Patriciu scandal is fading away, as Monica Macovei is still under attack, which once again proves the recent scandal was particularly targeted at her, with the Premier and Patriciu only collateral victims. In fact, the whole affair resembles a lazy student who would do anything but his homework.

Considering that Monica Macovei is essentially responsible for Adrian Năstase’s fall, “certain” forces were expected to launch a vengeful attack. The surprising element remains why the President didn’t move a muscle to protect his Minister – whom he imposed himself.

This reinforces the rumours that Monica Macovei has fallen out of Basescu’s good graces for a while now, and explains the differences in opinions on various topics such as the CSM and Ilie Botoş.

In any case, Tăriceanu himself is evidently in for something. Everybody was shocked by the announcement made recently by PD, which has already set a date for the merger convention, although elementary decency required that this was only made after a prior consultation with PNL. If only because Tăriceanu may have made holiday plans for July 15, for instance …

The PD announcement and the recent aggressive moves against the Premier prove that Traian Băsescu has had enough with Tăriceanu and that he will use all means available to destroy him. And at present the Constitution only leaves him with one option: the PD-PNL merger and establishment of a new party, with a new president – does anyone imagine Tăriceanu will get to be the president of the new party? – who will also be appointed Premier.

Which explains the covert support the Prime Minister is granting to Patriciu, the de facto leader of a major faction in PNL. In fact, PNL’s pro-Băsescu wing is neither large, nor influential, as it is rather made up of outsiders such as Stolojan, Stoica, Mona Muscă or the recently punished Boureanu.

Anyway, the blow is dealt just when the three were in full swing: Monica Macovei for the interesting developments in the Justice system, Călin Popescu Tăriceanu had only just launched a Liberal political attack and Patriciu had made an important acquisition abroad.

An odd merger

The recent mooting of the merger topic again is as ill-timed as could be. Both domestically, and internationally, Romania does have other priorities than that. Moreover, the talks give PSD an un-hoped for breath of fresh air just when the party was knocked down.

I am not one of those who expect PSD will be taken to pieces. But the demoting of Adrian Năstase and Ion Iliescu, along with many of the party’s “dinosaurs,” actually turns it into a “normal” party. PSD stands no chance to re-emerge as the State-party which used to run the political life with an iron fist. On the contrary, it stands all chances to be completely marginalised, to fall somewhere in the “etc.” chapter of the Romanian politics, along with Petre Roman’s Democratic Force, or PNŢCD, or Emil Constantinescu’s party – what’s it called again? …

But a prospective PNL-PD merger forces PSD to stick together and pushes the Romanian political life into the bipolar system.

At any rate, the manner in which the announcement was made is either stupid, or a blow below the belt.

In fact, ever since the beginning of the year we have been witnessing a cat and mouse game on the merger topic. Tăriceanu had had a meeting with Stoica and had scheduled one with Stolojan, debates were planned, in a nutshell, a more normal and coherent approach of the merger concept – although I believe that, on Tăriceanu’s part, this is a mere attempt to play out time, given that a prospective merger would take him off the forefront of political life.

How useful is the merger now?

At present both parties have serious credibility and competence issues. It would be the union of the dead with the blind. There are also notable ideological problems. Whereas PD did not hesitate to change the Social Democratic ideology it has been practising for 15 years, with PNL it won’t be that easy. Unlike PD, there are many supporters of the Liberal doctrine in PNL – though they may be not particularly thrilled with the performances of party leaders. In this respect, I am quite certain that most PNL members and supporters would oppose an ideological change. Not to mention that, at an international level, PNL has quite a good position in the Liberal International, unlike PD which gave up the Socialist International membership and has not received the Popular one, where it is only an observer. This was ironically pointed out by the Liberals, who told the Democrats, “You are inviting us in a house where you don’t have a key”.

While the populism displayed by President Traian Băsescu and senior PD leaders is, for the time being, a substitute for ideology – time will prove whether this can be sustained in the long run – it is a known fact that the Christian Democratic / Popular ideology has not found many supporters in Romania, as PNŢCD is, at its best, a party of around 10 per cent of the electorate, and UDMR is voted for its position as a representative of the Magyar minority, rather than for its Christian Democratic ideology. Adding to these is the sudden shift in doctrine, after the President had stated only months before that as many as 80 per cent of the PD members were Social -Democrats. Actually, UDMR is critical to the Democrats’ shift to Christian Democracy, and the nationalist shades surfacing as of late in the rhetoric of Emil Boc and other leaders are not likely to secure them support for accession to the Popular International.

Moreover, at a closer look we find that PNL would stand to lose from a prospective merger. For better or worse, PNL is a party with a clear ideology, with relatively strong local structures, well represented and with a number of personalities. The other side has nothing but President Băsescu’s popularity. PD has hardly strong and stable structures, no personalities and a severe personnel shortage. Băsescu took over a party from five per cent and took it up to thirty per cent, but this is an artificial rather than an organic growth. And Băsescu himself has become a predictable character, and reiteration of the same media scenarios may lead to boredom. Particularly since none of Băsescu’s major projects is bearing fruit. In this respect, PD’s long term prospects are rather cloudy. Leaving aside the ill-timing of such debates just before the country report, a number of serious problems question the feasibility of such an endeavour:

Hindrances for the new party:

• The problem of electing the new president.

• The doctrine issue: PNL and PD members need to find common grounds between the Liberal doctrine and the popular (Social Democratic) one.

• The higher number of PNL members, PNL local branches, the distinct organisational structure rule out a 1/1 ratio.

• Current incompatibilities and divergences between some PNL and PD branches.

• The inevitable struggle for power in the prospective new party.

• The inevitable struggle for local public administration offices, for leading positions in decentralised services.

• Possibly, divergences over places on electoral lists or appointment of candidates in case the uninominal voting system is adopted.

• The name of the new party.

A merger would have made sense shortly after the elections were won, when a certain synergy and enthusiasm existed, and many of the differences emerging within the Alliance would have been avoided. At present, talks are useless and the merger is neither urgent, nor politically feasible.

With the merger on, PSD comes out winner

In spite of the media attack, PSD isn’t wasting too much time on the Aunt Tamara scandal. Which is quite natural, since the party was already bearing the “corrupt” tag, and as for Adrian Năstase, rumours have it his wealth is somewhere between one and two billion Euros. So the ousting of the “arrogant” was an in-house coup, rather than a move to improve the party image. I don’t know to what extent PSD will benefit from discarding Năstase and Iliescu (the fact that “Grandma” Iliescu didn’t accompany the “grandchildren” to the mountains suggests that he doesn’t make much difference in the party, in spite of recent attempts by some leaders to get him back in the game). For the moment, PSD lives on the sap of its remaining 25-30 per cent; we shall see how long it will last.

In practice, the merger would only mean the creation of a rather weak political party, with many and constantly bickering factions; more importantly, it would strengthen PSD. Our political arena would be dominated by an artificially-born right-wing party and an unreformed left-wing one, still dominated by communist ideas. Both would be artificial constructions, threatening to collapse at the first breeze.

On the contrary, without the merger, the rigid and unable-to-reform PSD will drift away to the periphery of the political arena, in the absence of credible leaders; the political battles would thus be fought between the Liberals and the Democrats.

45% undecided

To be quite honest, our parties are in fact revolving around a 15-20 per cent of the electorate votes. I don’t find it disquieting that Gigi Becali is about to enter the Parliament, with close to five per cent of the vote intentions now. His votes mainly come from Vadim Tudor and PSD (particularly in Vrancea, for instance, where he built houses for the flood victims, he massively ate into the PSD pie).

But, mind you, we are talking about the votes of those who have made up their minds one way or another. Because recent polls indicate there are approx. 45-50 per cent of “undecided” potential voters. They feel no longer represented in the platform of any party, be it “Western and European”, or nationalist, or whatever. Such voters are attracted by the right rather than the left, and no longer taken in by the cheap populism with which the current political class is trying to lure them. And their number tends to grow from one day to the other, as people understand that the current political community has other concerns than the public welfare.

There are plenty of available votes, yet there is not yet a party addressing them, and even if it were, it would stand slim chances to break through the populist mass-media. A case in point is URR, a party which didn’t make it in the domestic media mainstream, although supported by notable elite personalities: Pleşu, Liiceanu, Rebengiuc. The only daily that tried to back it at the time was Evenimentul Zilei. Unfortunately, URR failed because of its leaders’ immaturity, which triggered a number of wrong choices of candidates. And today, by merging with the PNŢCD ghost, the project is lost for good.

There is no doubt that most of the political class is “frozen in its tracks” and has no chances to grow. But I don’t believe the solution is anywhere “outside”; the system must be changed only from within.

Our current political class is doomed if it continues this wild goose chase and fails to understand that it must take an interest in the regular citizens’ problems. As long as the agenda is made up of politicians’ own problems, in the next elections voters are likely to leave them to settle their problems for themselves.

by Cristian BĂRBULESCU

Publicat în : English  de la numărul 34
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