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The motion failed, the battle goes on

The no-confidence motion marks a temporary failure of Traian Băsescu’s efforts to impose PD as a presidential, dominant right-wing party. Passage likelihood was rather low anyway, given that as a rule MPs are reluctant to early elections and tend to choose the lesser risk. But chances for the motion to pass had improved just days before the vote, as both President Traian Băsescu and PSD leader Mircea Geoană vowed that there is a post-motion government solution and that under no circumstances will this lead to snap elections.

Indeed, the two presented to prospective supporters—the PSD, PD and PLD parliamentarians—the advantages of the new government formula, so as to motivate the sceptical. Unfortunately for the two leaders, not only were their arguments unconvincing, but they seemed to spark further suspicions and to pave the way for vote defection. Still, it was a close call. What mattered at the end of the day was not so much the Senators and Deputies’ will to preserve the status-quo, but the anti-motion position of a group of PSD MPs headed by Ion Iliescu and Adrian Năstase. They were not convinced by the solutions negotiated by Geoană with Băsescu, nor did they try to be, as they regard any stronger ties with the Head of State to be a disaster for the party. So the actual reason for the failure of the motion is the PSD “defection.” The losers are Traian Băsescu and Mircea Geoană. The Head of State giving public support to the motion and joining forces with PSD proved that he is willing to take considerable image risks with one goal alone: to remove Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu. This association harmed PD, first and foremost. The Democrats were already in an awkward position as they were somehow forced to back the motion in spite of its criticism of former PD ministers. But with Traian Băsescu involved, PD was asked for more than it could normally give, i.e. for an alliance with PSD, first in voting and then in the government. Băsescu’s raising the stake sparked tension within PD, and two Democratic MPs declined support for the motion. For the Democrats, passage of the motion would only have been an opportunity in the short run. In the medium run, it would have jeopardised the party’s electoral scores. Its current lead, as confirmed by all opinion polls, risked being lost if the party formed a government with PSD. Mircea Geoană and Traian Băsescu’s unswerving involvement in the motion affair may be accounted for by personal, rather than political considerations. For Traian Băsescu, removing Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu is an obsession that he is obviously unable to overcome. In his turn, Mircea Geoană has long had authority issues in his own party. The motion was introduced in order to postpone the settling of accounts. The two personal interests converged into an odd political association and a joint effort to bring Premier Tăriceanu down. Just like in the impeachment referendum, the authors relied on emotional responses. But a new emotional response of Parliament failed to occur, which is quite natural since parliamentarians’ own positions were at stake. The failure of the no-confidence motion will impact the main parties involved. Surviving Traian Băsescu’s new removal attempt, Premier Tăriceanu will face growing pressure from PD and PSD. His party is expected to come out strengthened, but it will face major political and image problems in the near future. Parliament may decline to enact bills introduced by the Government, which would call attention to the Liberals’ useless, indeed dangerous obstinacy in staying in Power, at the expense of the national interest of good governance. (The Executive is virtually a Liberal mainstay at present.) Added to this is the obligation to find a lawful operation formula, after the rejection by the Legislative of the Government reorganisation ordinances. Also, a number of Liberal Ministers are subject to criminal proceedings and may be suspended. Not least, a good result in the European Parliament elections is vital if the Liberals are to preserve their legitimacy as a ruling party. In the other camp, PD will probably be affected by President Băsescu’s over-involvement in the motion of censure matter. Băsescu’s losing electoral points may affect PD at a critical time: election of Romanian MEPs. This is why in the short term we may see a chill in the relations between Băsescu and PD and between PD and PLD. The Democrats will be ever less generous with Stolojan’s party, and Traian Băsescu is likely to have a hard time trying to impose an electoral alliance or even a merger with PLD. But PSD will see the most significant effects of the motion. A new crisis is already to be expected in this party. The “disloyalty” of certain MPs was generated by their refusing to accept the affiliation of PSD to Traian Băsescu’s dominant paradigm. As the party holding the most seats in Parliament, PSD was next in line to form the government, if the motion of censure passed. But President Băsescu would have never let that happen. In which case any other option would have been unacceptable to PSD, as it would have meant turning the party into a tool for the President. A repositioning of PSD is therefore expected in the near future, with the party resuming its anti-Băsescu attitude. To a certain extent, the motion of censure did clarify things, at least at a political level. In the electoral campaign we will witness a battle between three fairly well-defined forces: PNL, as a party relying on the right-wing ideological component, PSD, as a party returning, at least in part, to its traditional position defined by Iliescu, and PD, the party controlled by the President lock, stock and barrel. While Traian Băsescu obviously has the best chances, as the motion of censure proved, surprises are still possible. This failure proves to everybody, and above all to the Head of State, that the game is not yet over.

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