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Old PSD shifts to new style

Arthur SUCIU

The result, below expectations, achieved by PSD in the local elections was accounted for mainly by the party's poor performance in the electoral campaign. It is well known however that a party's image is built in the long run, and only in exceptional cases can the electoral campaign have a decisive influence on the vote.In the local elections, PSD lost votes not particularly because of its electoral campaign management, but because of political and image errors during its mandate. Not one month of campaign, but four years of governance overthrew PSD from the statute of dominant party. Here are a few of the elements that contributed to the image of this dominant and aloof PSD.



Competing governance programmes

 

Right after coming to rule in 2000, the debate on the results of the CDR-USD-UDMR governance was repressed, as the "disastrous heritage" theme was compromised. At the same time, there were competing projects within PSD, referring to the evolution of the new government. The main issue was to complete "transition" and have the country enter a "normality" stage, all these within a time frame spanning up until 2007, the year of European Union integration. In a first project, this was to be achieved in two successive mandates (2000-2004; 2004-2008); in the second one, in a short mandate (2000-2003) and a full length one (2003-2007). The second project required organisation of early elections, in a moment the popularity enjoyed by the Government was reaching its peak. Objective forecasts left no room for hope that the tender spot would be overcome before 2007. Against this background, the choice of the full length mandates option proved to be risky, because, in spite of certain positive results of the governance, year 2004 couldn't have been a time to reap.Moreover, shortly after the failure of the second plan, the corruption theme gained public attention and turned into the theme of local elections in 2004. The risk was there anyway. But beyond it, corruption accusations brought to ruling party officials have substantially overshadowed prospective electoral benefits proposed by the power.

 

Ion Iliescu's voters

 

The same holds true for the electorate. Very obviously, as a consequence of governing and of the time passing, Ion Iliescu's traditional electorate is shrinking. This had been noticed more than once, yet no major decision had been taken to redirect PSD to new electoral targets. One of these targets could have been the small scale entrepreneurs and the poor intellectuals. Inertia persisted, on the one hand owing to the weight Ion Iliescu has inside the party, and on the other hand because the change of PSD's electorate was not seen as being significant. At the moment, Ion Iliescu's electoral support remains important, yet less important than it was four years ago, as the positioning against each other of the two major PSD image conveyers, Ion Iliescu and Adrian Năstase, is for this reason one of the most challenging problems.

 

Information lock-up

 

The political option for PSD was, to a too high extent, triggered by the electorate's locking up to information. The fact was noticed that in Bucharest PSD lost the elections because Bucharesters are more open to information. But betting on voters' ignorance is bad policy, suggesting that PSD misleads them and has always something to hide. On the contrary, affiliation to PSD should come against the background of openness to information, at the risk of losing part of the voters.

 

Excess of authority

 

On PSD's taking over the power, Romania was facing the so-called State authority dissolution (1999-2000). Essentially, the fact that the head of Government was also the head of the ruling party ensured the country's political stability and the functioning of the Government. There was no major political crisis in the 2000-2004 mandate. On the other hand, during the same period substantial criticism was voiced against the Executive's arrogating attributions that belonged to the Legislative. MPs' derailing from the Governmental line when voting in the Parliament was sanctioned by the party, which hinted that the decisional centre was at the Government, and the political subordination of the MPs' votes was excessive (e.g. permanent criticism related to PSD's "voting machine"). During the four years, PSD played the "strength by force" rather than the "strength by weakness" card, although the country was being ruled by a minority government. This idea of the minority government was abandoned from the very outset, and replaced with the idea of the PSD "strength." The constant fear of losing the majority, of turning into a party insufficiently represented in power structures, grew into a desperate search for members in the other parties. The artificial scores generated by this political migration were lost in the local elections.

 

Propaganda

 

With a view to strengthen the State and party authority, PSD has taken a series of propagandistic measures, both at a central scale (e.g. Stephen the Great's commemoration) and at a local level (e.g. rallies with sausages and beer). Such measures were welcome up to a point, yet going too far in this direction led to accusations that the power attempted to "manage the national feelings" or to seize votes on account of the voters' poverty.Mention was also made of the communication, form institutional sources, of an impressive amount of information, which was a novelty in Romania. This information siege created the illusion of PSD's strength and distorted the news selection mechanism of mass-media gate-keepers. Thus the Opposition's messages were degraded, which led to the perception that a negative message was quasi-absent. Today people feel again the need for more social freedom and a more balanced ratio of positive and negative news regarding decision-makers' activity.

 

New local communities

 

Voters changed their views on the participation to social life. After a period in which they searched individual solutions (1998-2002), solutions are now being looked for in smaller communities, hence the importance local elections have gained. The new solution has superior substance and is undeniably a positive evolution of the society. It was generated by the capital accrual in these communities, by shifts in their mindframe (e.g. with the people employed abroad) etc. The prejudice that PSD is a crypto-communist party has been unexpectedly reiterated, so that the voters "waken up to the truth" can be nothing but anti-PSD. Which means that PSD's image as a modern Social-Democrat party is not wide spread in the society.

 

Opinion leaders

 

After 14 year, PSD does not own important media and lacks opinion leaders who support its interests in more honesty. Using, in view of constructing a public opinion and conveying pro-Governmental rationalisation, persons with poor credibility rates, "converted" or reconverted to PSD, deprived Social-Democrat messages of at least the emotional colour required by eloquence. At the same time, bringing personalities such as Emil Hurezeanu or Alin Teodorescu into the Government (an area of very good visibility), even for a short period, benefited PSD's image. A breach was also created in the intellectuals' "embargo" to the ruling party. Nevertheless, one cannot speak about the existence of a group of first rate intellectuals and opinion leaders sharing left-of-centre views.

As it did in previous mandates, PSD stood out through the pragmatism and bluntness of its leaders' discourse. Quite often however statements were on the verge of maliciousness, a rhetoric formula which ought to be incompatible with people called to give hope back to the people.

 

Reform in PSD

 

The reform in PSD was not an in-depth one, mainly because there was no necessary and sufficient reason to impose reform measures. The reform tendency has been nonetheless evincing at all times, in particular by bringing new people into the Government, while expecting or inducing a crisis (the early elections crisis, the small scale Government reshuffling crises, the local elections crisis, and so on). Those promoted into the Executive later on were assigned offices in the party. Reform efforts resulted in the enlargement of party leading structures (e.g. the establishment, against party regulations, of the executive president position), rather than in changing party leaders. Different opinions inside the party have been allowed for, yet particularly towards the end of the mandate notable tension resided in their display. This tension took shape in the establishment of the Minister of State positions.

These are just few of the causes for PSD's failure in the locals. The ruling party is currently seeking to change its image conveyers in the short run. Had the failure been triggered by the party's performance in the electoral campaign, quick relocation would have been efficient. But the "new style" of the Steering Bureau, the incumbent leading structure of the party, has to change, in only a few months' time, the image of PSD's "old style" of governance, which will be extremely difficult.

Publicat în : English  de la numărul 18

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