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Editorial: A dreadful soap opera for Adrian Năstase

Cristian BANU

In the first weekend of October the Opposition managed to deal a decisive blow to the Power, by changing, in a skilful move, more or less planned, the rules of the game, and braking through the media bloskage that it had been subject to, for so long, by the subdued mass media. On this occasion, Romania was faced with a TV novelty. The first time that a political leader cried, live on all TV channels... And not just any political leader, by the very head of the democratic Opposition, one of the most ambitious politicians, whom nobody had ever succeeded in kneeling down. Traian Băsescu burst into tears at the announcement made by his Alliance colleague, Theodor Stolojan, regarding his withdrawal from the presidential race, for health related reasons.

Roumors of hiswithdrawal had been circulating for quite a while, and not a few were the ones to blame it on poor performances - as Stolojan was about 10% behind Adrian Năstase -,in opinion polls, nonetheless it came as a shock for everybody.

Columnists close to the ruling party in one voice cried this was the "first political soap opera"in Romania. The accusation is rather sparked by a rushed emotional reaction.

Were Băsescu's tears for real, or not? Personally, I tend to believe they were. He had absolutely nothing to gain by faking it, on the contrary, he could bet he would not be forgiven for it - and he wasn't. Probably the scenes of Băsescu crying will be skillfully used by the ruling party in the electoral campaign which is about to start.

Supporters of the soap opera scenario start from the assuption that Theodor Stolojan was a mere puppet in Băsescu's hand, and, the moment he underperformed, he was thrown away... Yet the reality is altogether different. Stolojan's whole political path proves he was a strong personality, a true leader of a party known for its members' vanity. To dominate and dictate the political agenda in a party in which not long ago eaach leader took a handful of members and left the party at their first shade of discontent, that is an outstanding performance. Such a profile does not in the least match the idea of puppet. On the other hand, the Liberal leader's health problems have long been known - here comes a valid accusation, namely, why was he proposed in the first place, if his health was known to be poor - and their aggravation is perfectly credible.As for his standing in opinionpolls 10% behind Adrian Năstase... No, really! It will be quite a while until Romanian opinion poll research instituions will regain their credibility, seriously stained lately.

The shift between Theodor Stolojan and Traian Băsescu turn the rules of the game upside down. Adrian Năstase is faced with his worst nightmare: a direct confrontation with the "sailor." Probablyall he can think of already is what happened to his Cabinnet fellow, Mircea Geoană.

The Alliance did manage the crisis very well. Theodor Stolojan appointed at the helm of the party not the distinguished Mrs. Mona Muscă - a leader accepted by everybody -, but the very leader of the rival group, Călin Popescu Tăriceanu. The Liberals officially invited Traian Băsescu to run for President, as they are to appoint the Premier, that is precisely what the Tăriceanu-Patriciu wing wanted. Thus, instead of party dismantling further to the disappearance of one of the strong poles, the political construction of the Alliance gets out ever stronger. Coping with a crisis of such a scope, the Alliance proves wrong all the theories claiming it is an artificial product liable to snap at the first blow.

As for the political confrontation, Stolojan's shift with Băsescu benefits the Alliance, which thus has a stronger and more ambitious candidate, with a huge potential as a "driving force" for the alliance. Furthermore, the emotional impact of the Liberal leader's health problems will win over a good share of the undecided voters.

If the Năstase-Stolojan game was a doable one, possibly with an advantage for the ruling party leader, the Năstase-Băsescu one will be a historic match, to my mind. Băsescuis a candidate exactly the opposite of Adrian Năstase: naturally popular, natural born fighter, a winner, beyond all suspicions, good negotiator, skilled diplomat. Lately attempts by the ruling party to black wash the Bucharest Mayor prove that PSD leaders were updated or at least suspecting of this move. Unfortunately, this was only further turning Băsescu into a victim, offering him plenty of ammunition for the war to be officially launched this month. And the idea that Băsescu will disappoint the Bucharesters by giving up the city hall for Cotroceni is hardly credible. First of all, in the latest elections, Băsescu benefited from a mainly political vote, rather than one cast for his managerial abilities. Secondly, the Ciorbea model does not apply here, since Bsescu leaves for an office for which he he must first be elected, not appointed. Very likely his slogan will be "I got the Capital city rid of PSD, now help me rescue Romania."

Whereas the Opposition played its cards very well, managing to break through the information blockage imposed by PSD, the ruling party was again caught on the wrong foot. Official reactions could be nothing but polite and diplomatic, yet the unoficial responses were disappointing. The pack of subdued servants attacked Stolojan - big strategy mistake, as one cannot attack someone who is in bad health -like hungry vultures on a corpse, in aggressive, at times rude charges. Which only strengthened the spontaneoussimpathyfor the Liberal leader and the D.A. Alliance. Adrian Năstase again put his foot in it, in terms of image. He came out, just like after thefailure in the locals, black faced, in a violentaddress calling Traian Băsescu, among others, a "red neck". This outburst proves the fear for an ooponent who has so far been fatal to PSD.

The ruling party will now have to face a strong adversary, already trained in the role of a victim of PSD. With a Băsescu stuck at the City Hall, PSD could have won with flying colours, fighting only in those battles which suited their interests. But now Băsescu will be in the front line, face to face with Adrian Năstase. And in the front line, Băsescu will be ever better playing the role of driving engine for the Alliance candidates, increasing their electoral margins.

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