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The dizzy spell after the victory

Andrei ŢĂRANU

The joy of an electoral win has overwhelmed the Opposition, an important part of the media and some good share of the civil society. Everybody trusts an extraordinary victory of the Opposition, both now, and, more especially, this autumn, when the battle over the Victoria and Palaces- no longer seems a lost case - and thus a signal is conveyed that the Opposition could break through the apparently hard alloy of the Power, and has eventually come to represent a new power rotation. Yet, a detailed analysis could prove that reasons for the joy are still premature and an exaggerated joy might lead to the most diverse of responses.



First of all, interpretation of the absolute figures brings about the idea that the Opposition's win was not as clear as the media and Opposition depict it, after all. PSD, as a last resort, turned back to the traditional voters pool and environment, undoubtedly getting more mayor and local councillor offices than in 2000, and prepares for an honourable runoff in a high enough number of towns. Moreover, big cities which did not have a PSD-favourable electoral tradition, such as Constanța or Iași, either elected in the first ballot, or gave hopes of a quick victory in the runoff. Furthermore, Craiova, another important city, proved that in fact it is the party which comes first, because once the party withdrew its support to former Mayor Bulucea, the one replacing him from PSD won by a wide margin. In short, PSD's was not a political defeat, as it remained the one with the highest single-party score. The defeat was somewhere else, rather in terms of the image and political strategy that it pursued in the electoral campaign and shortly before it. And the faulty approach of political issues generated a strengthened support for the Opposition by the ones who cast their votes.

 

PSD,the party of villages and small towns, won a victory it was no longer seeking

 

What these elections proved quite clearly is that the ruling party remains a party of rural areas and of small towns, of a captive electorate, rather uneducated and most of the times poor or depending on State aid. What PSD would no longer see is that its electors remained the same since 1990 until 1996, and the high scores achieved in 2000 were offered by an electorate in a crisis of confidence in the ruling force of that moment, and not by an electorate which PSD had formed for itself. Nonetheless, in an attempt to change the reality in its own mind scheme, PSD overlooked precisely the ones naturally standing by it, and thus generated its own image and support crisis.

PSD has forgotten that, in fact, it had not carried the big cities in a very long time, and that its voters are middle and third age, i.e. those more often than not fostering a nostalgia over the communist period and not prone to reject former political police and communist apparatchiks, as they often belong to the same intellectual typology of the age. Then again, it has apparently forgotten that massive voting for PSD comes from the rural communities, where citizens vote in principle for the incumbent Power for a simple rationale: the money for the villages comes from the county capital, and those who rule the county also rule the villages, which is why "barons" have grown so numerous and turned into the "honorary members" of the party. This is something that PSD has understood for quite a while, right since the time it massively recruited mayors from other parties for itself, either through blackmail or financial negotiations, and this is why it's amazing how quickly it forgot where its votes came from. The very good score got by PSD in rural areas stood the same, although the party appeared to have left them behind.

This captive electorate was abandoned by PSD in favour of closeness to the young and to urban voters, better educated, although in cities PSD should have been voted for by the working class, by virtue of its doctrine. Social shifts occurring lately were not taken into account by PSD analysts, who failed to see that the Romanian working class is shrinking, either on account of plants and works being closed down, or because many of the workers left or plan to leave and get a job abroad. Their place has been taken by people employed in the services sector or by white collars in big companies, but also by the unemployed who gave up participation in the political life. And social shifts trigger and will continue to trigger a change in the electorate and its interests.

 

Instead of the old Iliescu engine, PSD tries young Jeeps - and loses

 

PSD, although aware of this (if at all), tried to find a different type of electors, mainly made up of the young, whom it tried to draw closer through soapy messages and free shows, beer and circus. The increasingly frequent TV shows featuring the leader of PSD's youth organisation - TSD, Victor Ponta and Daciana Sârbu suggested that the party was preparing for a change. Yet, beyond big shows on Queen's music with Adrian Năstase as guest star, the young learned nothing of what the party has in store for them. And this was because the distinction between the Government and the party is getting more evident, and what the rulers are forgetting is that, in an electoral campaign, the party is the main conveyor of messages. The massive involvement of the Government in the party structure, Victor Ponta's replies to Mischie, driving workers away from near the PSD headquarters and others, pushed PSD's constant voters (in fact Ion Iliescu's voters) into feeling abandoned by a party which they no longer recognized. PSD asserted itself not as an American-type party, with balloons and music, but as a party which takes care of the old and the needy. Ion Iliescu standing by an old woman in Făcăesti is the symbolic image of the party, rather than Daciana Sârbu's exuberance, much to the disappointment of party members.

And the signal given by the electorate was tale-telling, those who attended district mayors or local barons' feasts of plenty either didn't show up in polling stations, or voted for somebody else. Because the PSD voters are not looking for free beer and sausages, but for a human touch in politics. They are first of all looking for the humanness and moral uprightness that Ion Iliescu has managed to embody for years. This is why, after abandoning its faithful electorate, PSD is facing an image crisis similar to the one back in 1996, although definitely the results of Năstase Government are by far better that those of the Văcăroiu Cabinet. For what is eating into the party image is the "smart Alec" attitude of various party leaders when in direct or mediated contact with the citizens. And the one taking advantage of this crisis is, naturally and normally, the new image champion, the "Justice and Truth" Alliance.

 

PNL-PD Alliance tears down PSD "barons"; is it preparing its own?

 

Whose campaign was definitely a lot more dynamic and more flexible, using either the party image, when necessary, or a lot better chosen and better trained people. The same strategy was also used by other opposition parties, such as the Romanian Humanist Party (PUR) in Bacău. It was self-evident that an inventor, someone who invested a lot of work and brains in his business, will outrun a Sechelariu sitting for his picture in the top of the richest Romanians last autumn wearing a sailor's suit and mules.

The Alliance did nothing but send around the constituency cards with Sechelariu's picture and his biography, and the myth built with such care was knocked down. We might even say that the image of a Sechelariu weeping in front of the voters - whom he says he had flattered plenty - could be the new image of a PSD which abandoned its electorate, because the latter, learning that the local "baron" will no longer be backed by central structures, have left him with no remorse.

Political strategists of the D.A. Alliance have grasped, a lot sooner and better, the new social trends and rushed to capitalise on them. Any political analyst knows that, after a spell of economic growth and welfare - and there is no doubt we are witnessing one, proof in this respect standing the spectacular boom in consumer credits - the electorate tend to ask for tax abatements, i.e. right-of-centre policies. Which is precisely what the PD and PNL are promising. And whereas PSD turns its back on its own electors, D.A. forms its own electoral pool of the very citizens that PSD would like to represent itself.

Certainly, the ruling party's position is that, in fact, it has won the first ballot round, and the bare figures tend do confirm it, nevertheless nobody actually believes in these figures. Because they tell that Romania still has a huge number of villages in which socialist conservatism survives, whereas in big cities the social dynamics alter the political perceptions of an increasing number of citizens. And wherever the social situation has not changed significantly, the vote against PSD was a response to the corruption and lie surrounding the people that the party and its leaders rely on.

 

"Comrade Stalin's" advice

 

What actually poses the biggest problems to the PSD governance at the moment is the way it is to manage, for at least the coming five months, the relationship with those local councils which it no longer controls. Farewell to teleconferences in which Government members strike their fist on the table against county councils, farewell to ministers stormily asking subordinates in counties to resign, because soon enough the latter might jump into another political boat, as they had probably done before. Which is in fact the nightmare of any government, when, instead of implementing reform programmes, it finds itself forced to negotiate with the Opposition certain opportunities which, under normal circumstances, would have gained the ruling party electoral or image capital.

Still, the winners' position will by no means be a comfortable one either, since, given the confidence, lawfulness and respect bestowed upon them, they will have to negotiate from a different position than that of the beaten dog (a psycho-social metaphor that the Opposition, regardless which party is that, uses the most frequently in Romania). Wherever they have won, the fresh mayors and county and local councilors will be in a very delicate position, for SAPARD, PHARE or even Governmental funds will be granted for good projects and not for good intentions and electoral charity.

This is why, "comrade" I.V. Stalin, when writing a paper with this title (which unfortunately led to millions of dead or camp prisoners) warned on a fact that holds true in democracyas well: a victory, crushing as it may be, unless appropriately managed can turn into a full fledged defeat at any moment. For winning a battle doesn't end the war.

Publicat în : English  de la numărul 16

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