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The Last Ball in November?

On the eve of Ceauşescu’s fall, a movie was screen, as stupid as all others were in the communist era, but whose title was ominous: “The Last Ball in November.” By all indications, the European Parliament election and the referendum were the last ball for Traian Băsescu.

This electoral campaign showed us a (physically and politically) exhausted Presi­dent, making bad moves, footing the bill of political actions that he failed to plan thoroughly. How did this come to be?
Lack of competent advisers. The impeachment referendum was the peak of Traian Băsescu’s political career. Ever since, the President has been making one blunder after the other, at all levels: political, strategic, communicational, human. To err is human, but Traian Băsescu no longer tries damage control schemes after he errs, and many of his actions are badly planned for. I don’t believe at this point that the President is as reckless as to turn down good advice that may help his image. The departure of the Saftoiu couple has not been made up for, as Valeriu Turcan and Sebastian Lăzăroiu have rather limited abilities. This was rather obvious in the Realitatea TV interview during the campaign, with Băsescu’s two huge faux-pas: the lie about the number of Romanians killed in Italy and the quote from Patriciu credited to Raţiu. (The question re­mains as to why Realitatea had him inter­viewed by an unbiased anchor, rather than one of the President’s fans—Liana Pătraş, for instance.)
Loss of hands-on projects. Until recently, the President was involved primarily in concrete actions, with a practical impact on people. Rescuing the kidnapped journalists in Iraq, on-site visits during the floods, the Mărăcineni bridge. Even the Glina waste removal had some hands-on value. But as of recently the President has only approached abstract topics, and missed image opportunities (I’ll never understand why he didn’t go to Italy as soon as the Mailat scandal broke out). Political class reform, uninominal voting, moguls—all abstract themes, without immediate impact on people and, more importantly, used in every public appearance for three years now. In the electoral campaign, he rehashed the same old stuff he’s been using for three years: Patriciu, Voiculescu, Iliescu, cronyism, Secu­ritate, obsolete politicians…
Losing touch with his human side. It was charming to see the President dancing with his wife at the restaurant. It was rare, human, far from Ion Ilies­cu’s apparatchik stiffness or Emil Con­s­tantinescu’s intellectual aloof­ness. But this was gradually replaced by ty­pically electoral acts (shopping for spar­kling water and beer on the re­feren­dum day is anything but “human” …). Failure to take media advantage of the President’s surgery (turned into a state secret like in the communist era) was a big mistake. Citizens’ emotional involvement was thus lost.
Over-coverage. The alleged media embargo he complains about today is simply not there, and voters are not that easy to fool. For three years, the President has been ubiquitous in the media. Even when he claimed to be harassed by moguls, he had two TV appea­rances a week (apart from the press conferences in Cotroceni). The over-coverage was certain to wear and tear the Traian Băsescu character—hardly as complex as to handle it for three years, on a daily basis, and not become boring. His fate as a character was sealed when Dan Diaconescu’s Elodia show outdid his rating.
Political errors. PLD is a project without a future. As far back as one year ago I was writing that PLD only transfers the fratricide war between PD and PNL, to PD and PLD. Stolojan’s self-professed Liberals didn’t win over PNL voters, but PD ones, as the President’s supporters can’t tell which party is closer to and sponsored by the President. These elections may bring out the discontent so far suppressed in PD. As soon as Traian Băsescu is no longer in a position to guarantee access to Power, the party may explore new options, and we may see the D.A. PNL-PD Alliance reborn without Traian Băsescu. Also, his alliance with PSD only to depose Tăriceanu was a big political mistake, and so was the pointless referendum. He could have appropriated the Government’s bill, as he did with the Pensions Act, and the general perception would have been that we have the President to thank for as far as the uninominal voting goes (which is ultimately true). But now he’s in for a loss. If he promulgates the Liberals’ law, he will send the ball in their court; if he doesn’t, he will be blamed for the failure to introduce the uninominal voting system.
Lack of alternatives. Traian Băsescu made the same mistake the “322” made in the referendum. He suggests no alternatives. Fine, let’s reform the political class, let’s change the system altogether: with whom? With Elena Udrea? With Emil Boc? With Marinescu-Bideu, Willi Brânză, Nati Meir and other political migrants who found safe haven in PD? With this lame excuse of a party named PLD? As media coverage of fishy PD dealings is increasingly frequent, the President’s leaving them out of the “corrupt gang” is ridiculous. The President has no convincing alternative, either in moral terms or (at least) in terms of abilities.
Underperformance. The President doesn’t have much to show for his three years in office, except perhaps negative things: a wracked up foreign policy; taking the heat over Moldova, over Ukraine, over the Bucharest-Lon­don-Washington axis; ruining a parlia­men­tary majority; messing up a politi­cal alliance; creating a stillborn party (PLD); (at least) one scandal a week; forcing DNA into “political policing”; undermining public institutions; not one corruption sentence. The achie­ve­ments chapter tends to include ele­men­ts that are hardly in his job des­cription: the journalist rescue, a bridge made operational sooner than plan­ned, a national road unblocked in record-short time… Traian Băsescu perfectly illustrates a well-known saying in football: “He was born with talent and died with promise.” Traian Băsescu has virtually nothing to pride himself on, as either a Transport Minister, or a Bucharest Mayor General, or a President. Every time he generated huge expectations; unfortunately, every time he fell flat. Words are fine, but they can’t replace action forever. Sooner or later, he must deliver.
Political isolation. His parties’ score in the EP election (a combined 36%) is too low, considering their current downward trend, and does not enable them to pool enough resources to take Power. As he turned the entire political class against him, he left no room for cooperation, and the statement about parties “scratching the Cotroceni gates with little helpless claws” is not likely to help. The shrinking chances for the party to take Power may drive away some of the PD sponsors or political migrants.
Dodging responsibility. Traian Băsescu would not take responsibility for the referendum failure, but blamed the Government, TV channels, the political class. He thus becomes just like those he criticises. Dodging responsibility is likely to further deepen many of the failures of his mandate.
Rhetoric theme misfires. Traian Băsescu had a number of major rhetoric themes: anticorruption, political class reform, anti-communism and anti-Securitate, public support. The anticorruption theme was lost as over 50% of the Romanians believe that DNA is involved in political policing. The reform of the political class is a failed project, as PD is brimming with political migrants, questionable characters, and Elena Udrea is its main spokesperson. The public endorsement has dwindled lately, as the President has had problems getting invited to rallies, and in the referendum the nation gave him the cold shoulder. The anti-communism and anti-Securitate are topics taken over from PNL, so the President seems to be aping the Liberals.

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