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PNL-PD: Deferring merger - a form of decline

Cristian BANU

In full swing early this year, talks about the timeliness of the merger between the two parties in the D.A. Alliance have lately receded. Signals launched by the Democrat Party are clearly against the merger, whereas, for the civil society or the Liberal Party, negative signals are hidden behind the mask of concerns for "governance"...


If the two parties really intend to merge, nobody prevents them from appointing a team of experts each, to work jointly on defining the statute of the new structure. Both parties do have qualified members, who can organise such a meeting and are not directly involved in the act of governance. But deferral is only a polite way of declining the project. Unfortunately, this declination is the first promise the new Government doesn't keep, and it may have unpredictable consequences.


Neither together, nor separately


First of all, the two parties have not been voted individually, but jointly. I doubt that, had they run individually, they would have got the result they did. Over have of the electorate voted for a strong bloc, able to overthrow the State-party. They were not part of any of the two parties' traditional voter pools. Some of them have cast a pragmatic vote, which otherwise would have gone to PNȚCD, URR or other parties. If such an offer appeared, these voters would be very quick in abandoning the D.A. Alliance. Second of all, already we can no longer speak about an alliance, but about a coalition, as recent tension over the runner for the City Hall- proves.

Although Traian Băsescu named Emil Boc as his successor, rules of the game in PD now seem to be dictated by the triad Videanu-Blaga-Berceanu. We can only hope that Mr. Videanu will not be replaced in the Government by Mr. Berceanu, as rumours have it... At any rate, the tension in PD reflects on the Government, and a prospective splintering of the former is sure to affect the latter, even as far as to triggering early elections, in which voters will assuredly censure PD. Thirdly, already the fragile balance between the two parties is fading. Whereas PNL seems to take to governing like a duck to water, having well chosen ministers, PD still has organisation and image issues. For interim president Emil Boc, who has had an excellent performance as a PD parliamentarian and vice-president, running the party appears to be too much to handle. Media tells us he makes no moves without Băsescu's consent, and commuting from Cluj to Bucharest is a disadvantage. One cannot lead a ruling party over the phone and through weekly meetings. As for Adriean Videanu, he is one of the PD leaders who stood out, during the party's Opposition years, particularly through his inconspicuous presence. Settled in as a Vice-premier, he proved he doesn't know what's what. His first idea in the new office was to have all Romanians fill in wealth statements (as if finding out precisely how poor Romanians are was the first priority for the government), without telling us in what way and for what budget costs such an endeavour would be completed, and, more importantly, announcing that all assets accrued by 2005 will be seen as "clean". The only PD ministers with an outstanding performance so far are Vasile Blaga, who proves the Romanian police is not beyond cleaning, and Gheorghe Barbu, who is likely to turn into one of the best appreciated politicians, if his pension recalculation project succeeds.

The recent scandal in PD generates further image problems. The signal was highly negative. Furthermore, President Traian Băsescu made a mistake - at the expense of his former party - by getting directly involved in it; moreover, by offending a young Deputy, he upset his friends and confirmed foes' claims.

If he continues to get involved in the PD life, following in the footsteps of Ion Iliescu, Băsescu will shortly lose the capital of trust he still has.

Already the withdrawal of PD Deputies (Cozmin Gușă, Lavinia Șandru and Aurelian Pavelescu) paves the way for others to follow... In which case a merger with PNL from equal positions would be out of the question, considering also the presidential blunders.

Therefore, the longer deferred the merger, the harder the PD, whereas PNL exclusively depends on the way it will govern. If it continues to avoid serious errors, and Mr. Tăriceanu tempers down and grows more reasonable and tactful, chances are the public will have a positive perception on the governance thus PNL will rise. Paradoxically enough, although it is to its best interest, PD seems to care little about the merger. In a move of remarkable political intelligence, the Liberal left the door open, including through their president's voice. But at this moment, were the merger operated, PNL would get a Trojan horse into their house. Therefore, politically speaking, as far as they are concerned this is a wise move. We are still to see the developments inside the government, given that one of the key partners has turned into a boiling pot... If it blows up, it will throw both parties into the Opposition, because PNL on his own is unlikely to cope with PSD. And PD on its own could hardly make it in Parliament, or even, in a worst case scenario PD melts into PDS...


The President's agenda


Traian Băsescu has promised he will be an involved and active President. He has promised he will be a different type of President than Ion Iliescu was. Yes, he is an active President! Yes, he is an involved President! But no, he is not a different type of President than Ion Iliescu. He even seems to be a President related to Ion Iliescu. Much too closely related...

Initially, we though the President was taken in, again and again, and we voiced our surprise with a range of acts that came clearly against the mandate voters had bestowed on him.

Recent incidents in PD brought him into the spotlight and reminded us all by the Iliescu pattern we had all believed was dead and buried. While many of the presidential blunders are still permissible, the recent incident marks the beginning of the end of Traian Băsescu's image as a reformer. Startling appointments to offices (the blonde at the Integration and the blonde in Cotroceni, the brunette at the Prefecture), the dismissals through "disappointment" (e.g. Silvian Ionescu) or decided overnight (e.g. Buzura), keeping Ion Iliescu's apparatus in office, keeping in office characters with a still unclear involvement in the revolution, kicking journalists off the "presidential plane" are as many signals that the President has a different agenda than the one it was elected for. Many of those who voted for him made an effort to overlook his harshness, lack of tact and conflictual personality, in the hope that, once in Cotroceni, Băsescu will understand the constraints of the office and will tone down. He didn't. Moreover, in these first months of mandate, Băsescu missed none of the blunders or silly things he could have done. At some point he even seemed to be looking for trouble. And where he didn't find it, he generated it...

The new threat to call for early elections, in the recent interview to ProTV is an instance of mistiming and is only liable to generate useless tension in the Government. Whereas the first interview, the one in "Adevărul", came at the right moment and served the interests of the Alliance, the new one comes at a wrong time. There is peace now in the governing coalition, the only problems are caused by... PD. Both PUR, and UDMR keep quiet and mind their own business, and they have done their job in Parliament as well.

Early elections are the last thing Romania needs in 2005. It doesn't take much of a political analyst to tell that, given recent stuttering and the announced wave of price rises, the D.A. Alliance will plunge in polls. And the wave of PD exits - which has only begun - will further eat into its share in the Alliance... That is, if there will be any Alliance left...

There are several major signs pointing to suspicious affinity between Băsescu and Ion Iliescu, but also between many a PD and PSD leaders:

- Ion Iliescu has immediately calmed down PSD, which had started a robust Opposition activity. Next came a dubious silence from PSD in the most difficult moments for the Alliance, like Videanu's recent statements, which caused an over 10 per cent fall in the Stock Exchange.

- Traian Băsescu didn't get rid of Ion Iliescu's people... Whereas around the country offices are redistributed against the "algorithm," there is silence in Cotroceni; the only exception, Augustin Buzura, seems a personal retaliation of Andrei Pleșu's, rather than a conscious move coming from the President, who is likely to have never heard of Patapievici before.

- Traian Băsescu kept the heads of secret services in place, although they were the first he should have replaced, at least for incompetence, if not for anything else...

- Traian Băsescu dismantled CNSAS de facto after he had allegedly persuaded Timofte to allow access to former political police file.

- Anti-corruption actions by the new Power focus on PSD's usual corrupts, fallen out of favour anyway: Iacubov, Sechelariu, Mischie etc.

- Traian Băsescu fought with Cozmin Gușă over Ion Iliescu.

- the famous "marble ordinance "...

These are just a few of the elements that seem to outline a nightmare scenario: further to the PD stumble generated by in-house scandal and tension, PSD can lodge a censor motion and the Government will simply fall. And, instead of early elections, Băsescu may invite a PSD-PD coalition to govern...


The end of an illusion...


The new Power has had a period in which it could have moved mountains. The old structures were shattered by Traian Băsescu's victory, and there was a moment when the tide could be turned. It would have only taken a fillip to break them. But there was no one to do it. Or maybe this was not the point...

Anyway, they quickly closed the ranks. The new President was halted, almost immediately, by the head of the Intelligence Service. It was the first sign that the President was beginning to lose the battle - although many doubt now that he ever intended to fight a battle - and it all reached the climax when Traian Băsescu's housing scheme got exposed.

As of that moment, the President turned into "one of them." It doesn't even matter now whether he ever intended to accomplish that "(r)evolution", whether his intentions were good or not, whether he had a deal with Ion Iliescu or not... Traian Băsescu lost his most valuable asset - moral authority. All those errors could have been accounted for and eventually forgiven. But the real estate scheme is not that easy to swallow. One cannot just go and buy a luxury apartment for the price of a single-room flat in Drumul Taberei and then boast fighting against corruption.

From now on, all his attempts to fight against corruption will be immediately dismissed with a "Look who's talking!" Already PSD members are rejoicing, and claiming theirs is a democratic party, as it allows different opinions and views to be made public, whereas in PD any attempt is immediately muffled... "The moment there were other opinions and they were publicly expressed, he came and put a lid on it from the Presidential Administration, and eventually rebels got excluded", says Mr. Titus Corlățean, spokesman for PSD. How low did it get, if PSD is in a position to teach the President and his party (unfortunately, his brutal interference with the Democratic Party's internal affairs allows us to use this label)!...

In order to save his honour, the President needs a good PR strike. Catching one of the "big sharks" could do the job. With the President and Ion Iliescu having a common enemy - in Stelian Tănase's talk-show it was quite evident that Adrian Năstase has fallen out of Iliescu's favour: the former Premier could barely utter two phrases, and Ion Iliescu had no hesitation to attacking him live on TV -, we are likely to witness a joint attack against the former PM.


Could anybody wake up Mr. Tăriceanu...


Dizzy with the sweet smell of Power, Călin Popescu Tăriceanu adds by the day some of his forerunners' arrogance - for it was not specific to Adrian Năstase alone - and fails to notice that none of the previous PMs meant anything after they ceased being Premiers - except for Mugur Isărescu. And he is not aware of the dense smokescreen PD is weaving around him...

The first thing that strikes us in the protocol signed by the ruling coalition parties is the complete absence of the Alliance from this text. Never in the protocol is the D.A. Alliance mentioned; only member parties are. Which marks the political death of this electoral bloc.

Off the record, the growing tension between PNL and PD was known of, although peace and friendship reigned in public statements. As we expected, local elections in Bucharest brought about further tension: PD forcefully imposed its candidate, while the Liberals provided no support to Ludovic Orban, leaving the latter to make a fool of himself, although even the PSD-commissioned poll had him four per cent ahead of Videanu.

But to return to the protocol text. There is no mention here of PNL's right to appoint the Premier. The interpretation given by the Liberals is that the Alliance protocol is the governing document, which stipulates that the party with the higher number of MPs will appoint the Premier - therefore PNL. As long as there is an Alliance, such an interpretation is correct. Only that the D.A. Alliance is nowhere to be found in the protocol text.

Obviously, this protocol doesn't have much relevance as a political document. There was a protocol regulating the defunct CDR also, whose leaders were best friends only to get at each other's throat as soon as the meeting was over. Romania is a transactional, rather than a contractual country, therefore any "contract" signed by parties is less important than the parties' "agreement".

Another element that should be disquieting for the serene Mr. Tăriceanu is the President persisting in bringing up the early election topic. In the interview to "Ziua" daily, Emil Constantinescu made an interesting comment. The President can only play an important part in crisis situations. Apart from such crises, presidency is a rather powerless institution in home politics. Consequently, in order to keep control, Mr. Traian Băsescu needs to kindle/maintain political crises. At the moment, early elections benefits no one, whether in Power or in Opposition. A censor motion is enough to give the Tăriceanu government the finishing stroke. And then, the President can appoint another Premier, from a "wider coalition" including PSD, PUR, PD, to fix what the "incompetent Tăriceanu government" has broken...

Things are not pink for Mr. Tăriceanu in his own party either. Although he won party presidency by a large margin (approx. 200 votes against, out of 1300), there have been senior party leaders having opposite opinions from his own, and who only "kept silent" because PNL is in Power. Thus, party subordination, in the Adrian Năstase pattern, can bring a similar outcome for Călin Popescu Tăriceanu, only that PNL doesn't have, at present, a luxury dead-end job such as Chamber Speaker to offer him...

As a fellow once noticed, none of the Premiers of post-December Romania ended in smoke: Petre Roman - shipwrecked in the "other political groups" category, Theodor Stolojan - retired after a moment of glory and now an adviser in Cotroceni, Nicolae Văcăroiu - stuck in an office which seems much more important than it actually is, Victor Ciorbea - ended up in ridicule, the same for Radu Vasile, while Adrian Năstase prepares to follow suit...

The only one who stands out is Mugur Isărescu, who is also the only dignitary to keep his office for so long. Because a competent man is also necessary, to mend what the others destroy.


The icing on the cake


If the real estate scandal in which the President was involved proves to come from the Liberals, as rumours have it (more likely without Tăriceanu knowing it, as he is so over-excited with being a Premier that he sees nothing else around him), the D.A. Alliance, or what's left of it, is dead and buried, and the President has good chances to see his dream come true - early elections. Though I doubt anyone actually wants early elections. We will more likely witness the chess pieces get rearranged on the board.

With Adrian Năstase out of the game, together with some of the local barons, PSD would be a cleaner, better party, just perfect for a merger with PD.

And PSD made yet another courteous move, by appointing as runner for the City Hall- a candidate who won't bother Mr. Videanu too much.

The next move will probably be the censor motion and seizing power.

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