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Alliance or Party?

Cezar DOBRE

Since the elections, PD is the author of the most serious blunders, related either to appointing the wrong people (the blonde for the Integration Ministry, Silvian Ionescu, Gheorghe Dobre), or to launching insufficiently considered topics for discussion (e.g. Videanu and his idea of having everyone state their wealth, but paying no heed to the way these assets were obtained, until 2005). The last really stupid thing to do is to nominate a runner for the City Hall-, after the Liberals have already announced theirs.

On the other hand, PNL seems to be on top of things. It has had no serious problems so far with the nominations it made, whereas within the party there is an agreement that some may deem dubious, as far as the merger with PD goes.



A tactics mistake

 

The stubbornness proven by the Democratic Party (PD) as to having its own candidate for the Bucharest Mayoralty is worthy of a better cause. The idea itself is as stupid as can be, because:

- the Democrats already control the Prefecture-, where they had initially appointed a controversial individual, withdrawn on the President's insistence. The new Prefect is one of Traian Băsescu's ladies. We can only hope that the distinguished lady will not make the same mistakes as the others have, the most publicised of which was Anca Boagiu's. Unless PD gives the City Hall up to the Liberals, we have a first imbalance in the Alliance, which can yawn wider in the future.

- the name mentioned for this purpose, Adriean Videanu, proves the party's shortage of human resources. The Democratic Party is unable to produce a worthy candidate and pulls Vicepremier Videanu out of the governmental team, although so far he was perceived as Prime Minister Călin Popescu Tăriceanu's right hand. It would be humiliating for the second highest Government official to take part in a "race" with one of the Liberals' second-rank leaders. This is how Democrats would place themselves in a humiliating position. It would be interesting to know what kind of authority will Mr. Videanu have in the Government - but not only here - after a (quite likely) defeat against Mr. Ludovic Orban.

On the one hand, the Democrat's desire to preserve continuity in the City Hall is only natural. On the other hand, both the Prefecture and the City Hall would be a little too much, and Liberals might get upset. It would be a huge mistake for the Democrats to push their claims too far, on grounds that the incumbent Government is Traian Băsescu's achievement exclusively! Băsescu's victory itself is partly owed to the Liberals, and at least so far they seem to be performing better. Moreover, generating useless friction can turn against the Democrats themselves. They have already made a lot of errors so far.

A strategy mistake

A second notable failure, which might cost them dearly, is their slowing the merger process down. After Traian Băsescu brought it back on the agenda, the Liberals moved quite fast. Whereas we expected a strong group to oppose the idea, on the contrary, Liberal leaders joined hands and took over (perhaps suspiciously quickly) the idea of a merger. Apparently, the coming Congress will only be a formality, as Călin Popescu Tăriceanu is to be elected president and authorised to negotiate the terms of the merger with PD. Even the idea of giving up the Liberal doctrine was accepted (suspiciously) easy.

On the other side, answers have been fuzzier, and lately even absent altogether. The merger project appears to have frozen. Which means another poor mark, because it is obvious that voters expect the right wing to merge into a strong party.

Unfortunately for itself, there is hardly any political future for the Democratic Party outside the merger with the Liberal Party. The unexpectedly high score it got in the local elections and the appreciation it enjoyed in opinion polls afterwards were due to circumstances which could hardly repeat in the 2008 elections:

- PNL initially had an ambiguous stand as to PSD, which at the time was sanctioned by the electorate. On the contrary, PD was seen as the victim of PSD, with Adrian Năstase focusing all his cannons on this party and asking for it to be dismantled.

- With Băsescu at the City Hall, PD managed to break the information blockage imposed by the ruling party and create a positive image in the mass-media

- It was a loyal partner in the electoral campaign, both for the locals and the general elections.

 

What happens now?

 

- There are no more enemies. PSD is too weak, and is getting weaker by the day. Therefore, PD must move on from a defensive discourse and a defence attitude to another type of discourse and attitude. It no longer needs to demolish, now it has to build.

- On the other hand, reformed or not, it will be PSD or a party resulted from PSD that will continue to represent the Romanian left wing. Illusions fostered by some PD members, that if they keep the Social Democrat doctrine they will manage to bring the left wing together in a European type of party, are groundless, because PD is, in terms of doctrine, somewhere in between the right and the left wing. Self-proclaimed a Social Democratic party, it is regarded by nobody as a left wing party, nor is it accepted as a right wing one...In other words, the right wing sees it as a left wing party and the left wing regards it as a right wing one.

- Any "incident" or misunderstanding between partners will be exclusively blamed on PD. The Liberals are already skilled in doing this, whereas the Democrats have a history of being a "demolition" party.

- While in the Opposition, PD always defined itself as against PSD. Apart from the opposition against PSD, the Democrats have few ideas and reference points. One leader says that 80% of the members are Social Democrats, another says they are closer to Popular Party ideas...

- They will no longer have Băsescu. In spite of his praiseworthy intentions of renewing the party and of bringing up new leaders, the new leading structure of the Democrats does not rise to the standards set by the previous one. Emil Boc will never have Băsescu's popularity and charisma. And in the next elections, the latter will not be able to get involved in the electoral campaign. In case he tries to, the other parties will jump to his throat.

- Liberals could find another partner for dialogue in the next elections, if a coherent right wing Christian-Democratic party gets structured (unlikely as it may be).

Under these circumstances, PD could find itself in 2008 in the situation PNȚCD was in 2000. What Romania needs is strong parties, in a simplified political arena. There is little room for experimenting, for two parties having the same doctrine... The left wing will be represented by PSD or the party which will emerge from it, the right wing will be occupied by the Liberal Party, and the centre by a Christian - Democratic party.

There could also be a third option for PD. Merger with the newly born Christian Democratic Party and getting under the Popular umbrella. This however raises the question of whether the Taleban-like electorate of PNȚCD will be willing to accept a party which they blame for having caused the failure of the CDR governance...

 

On the other side, PNL grows

 

PNL has had an excellent performance since the elections. It managed to appoint generally capable people, with sound reputations. Even the surprising nominations (Ionuț Popescu for the Ministry for Finances and Mona Muscă for the Culture Ministry) proved to be felicitous, the former in particular. Let's hope that after the initial blunders - caused by a certain rushing into well-doing which defines her, and which has led her into making mistakes in the past as well - Mrs. Mona Muscă will get things done, considering that she benefits from an outstanding capital of trust.

Once the merger project brought up, the Liberals seem to have reached an agreement on this as well. Surprisingly enough, Mr. Patriciu proves to be a supporter of this idea, although everybody expected the opposite.

Step by step, PNL seems to outperform the image it had during and shortly after the elections, of being in Băsescu's tow. Unfortunately however, I doubt that PNL by itself will manage to get more than an average 20-25% in elections. The party doesn't have enough resources to grow any more than that. Consequently, the merger should be a priority.

 

Merger, a priority

 

Obviously, there are plenty of voices claiming PNL should not change its ideology and give up its positions in the Liberal International. Some even question the morality of such a decision.

Nonetheless, one should go deeper into analysis here. First of all, the signal conveyed by the electorate was definitely in favour of building a strong right-wing party, mainly made up of these two parties. Secondly, the two parties are equally strong, and none of them can swallow the other. Consequently, they need to find common grounds, a basis on which they can build the new party. And this is not about finding a vocation, about revelation, but about political calculation and negotiation. And the Popular doctrine is this common ground. And there is no doubt that the domination of the European Popular Party in the EU is an additional incentive. On the other hand, PNL has long ceased being the party founded by the Bratianu family. It encompasses several trends, from a radical right wing - former UFD, PNL AT, to a left-wing group - Theodor Meleșcanu's. In PD, Social Democracy is a mere pretext, as PD has never stroke voters as being a veritable left-wing party, in particular as long as it defined itself in terms of its opposition against PSD, rather than in ideological terms. Under these circumstances, embracing the Popular ideology, which in turn accommodates different lines, from Christian Democracy to Social Democracy, is not necessarily to mean political migration.

A lot more important than settling in one ideological area or another is, in my opinion, for both parties to implement a professional human resources policy. When coming to rule they proved just how scarce their human capital is.

The means of going up the ladder in political parties chased true professionals away. Also, policies implemented both by the incumbent Power and by the incumbent Opposition drove away anyone interested in taking part in administering the country. As long as any change in Power triggers a change in all administration levels, from Secretaries of State to kindergarten managers, it is quite obvious that professionals don't belong in administration. They would only get compromised here.

Before choosing one doctrine or another, the two parties should have a hierarchic structure in place, they should establish clear and transparent promotion criteria, as well as an adequate policy in view of both attracting professionals from all fields, and of training the existing ones.

Naturally, such a "clean up" will upset a large share of the members of both parties. This is why it is critical that means to compensate and to quiet down the disgruntled be identified.

The new political structure should be managed like a big size corporation - since all leaders are top managers in first rate companies anyway - and leaders should be assessed against clear-cut and transparent criteria.

If the new party doesn't change its approach to politics, it will fail just as the other two parties have. Because voters will choose something else. Another country, perhaps...

 

What if...

 

But what if the two parties stay separate?

Unfortunately, not many options here. First of all because PSD is not going to disintegrate. One way or another, with Ion Iliescu, with Adrian Năstase or with another leader, PSD is sure to remain a significant force. Depending on the performance of this governmental term, its score will be slightly higher or slightly lower, but in any case comparable with the score of the two parties together. If they remain separate, they have no other choice but to continue to be allies. Because, if the governance is successful, they will only be able to keep Power together. If the governance fails, PSD will rule alone (supported by PRM, naturally), and the two parties will have to stick together to form a strong Opposition, because it is hard to assume that PSD will invite any of them to join the Government...

Therefore, carrying on in the current formula will only reduce their chances to stay in Power, because part of the electorate will be disappointed.

Publicat în : English  de la numărul 22

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