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The Patriciu Case and the Political Movements

Ana-Maria TĂNASE

For the first time since December 1989, a senior Power representative, in the person of Dinu Patriciu, is charged, right at the onset of the new mandate, with serious law violations. A signal that the fight against corruption has gone beyond the political complexion of its actors, or is there more to it than meets the eye?

Dinu Patriciu's arrest, a move for electoral ends


Accidentally or not, every time a controversy breaks out between the two parties in the D.A. Alliance, between Băsescu and PNL or between Băsescu and Tăriceanu, suspicions reach the area of older connections between certain people in PNL and in PSD. The conflict between Traian Băsescu and Dinu Patriciu goes back a long time, but it surfaced during the 2004 campaign, when on the one hand Băsescu was threatening Patriciu with jail in the Petromidia file and on the other hand Patriciu gave an ultimatum to Basescu's peace of mind until the end of the electoral campaign.

Getting Theodor Stolojan out of the presidential race and depriving PNL of its own runner for presidency were a heavy blow to the Liberals' pride, in particular for the so-called hard-liners in the party, represented by Dinu Patriciu and Călin Popescu Tăriceanu. Traian Băsescu's winning the elections brought PNL to rule and gave them a Premier, but left a door open to Cotroceni, for the President's whims and wishes.

The obsessive reiteration of the early election issue, the Liberals' getting buried under a pile of governmental problems or the PD interim president's recent visions of supremacy are all signals that the stake of the power game for Traian Băsescu and implicitly for his "favourite" party has undergone major changes as compared to one year ago. And it's not out of the question that in the course of future events PNL will be the one to be sacrificed.  


Internal sources of conflict in Dinu Patriciu's arrest


Arresting Patriciu is based on at least two sources, resulting from clashes between various types groups:

- Economic interest groups, shaped by the hostility between:

- the Rafo group (Tender-Iacubov) - Dinu Patriciu (Rompetrol) in the dispute over Petrom (the Liviu Luca - Sorin Ovidiu Vântu group): Patriciu claims that last spring Talpeș allegedly had a meeting with officials of Balkan Petroleum (the major shareholder in Rafo) in which he reportedly negotiated a trade-off involving the stock (25%) held in Rompetrol by OMV. In parallel, Rafo stockholders proposed the Rompetrol chairman a merger between Rafo and Petromidia. Because they didn't get what they wanted, Rafo officials launched negotiations on their entering the capital market, asking for 10% of the Rompetrol stock and a seat in the Board of Directors. In fact, Patriciu claims, what they wanted was not to buy stock, but to trade shares.   

- Dinu Patriciu (Rompetrol) - Dan Voiculescu (Intact-Grivco group) over Rafo: the competition between groups of economic interests over Rafo brought Luca-Vântu-Patriciu together against Tender, on the one hand, and against Voiculescu, on the other hand.

- Political interest groups, organised along several axes:

- the Hrebenciuc - Talpeș group - Liberal businessmen - Dan Voiculescu: Groups of economic interests are mapped against the network of top level political relationships, present both in the Power and Opposition circles. Such cross-complicity drew PNL closer to PSD, on the one hand, and on the other hand tied up connections between PNL, PSD and PUR.

- the Patriciu (Tăriceanu) group - Băsescu: it is no longer any secret that Patriciu and Băsescu have never seen eye to eye, which on the one hand induced tension between Cotroceni and Victoria Palace, and on the other hand generated tension between Alliance partners and even between the two wings in PNL (the Patriciu-Tăriceanu wing vs. the Stoica-Stolojan wing). Reiteration of the early election issue further troubled the waters in the two wings. A few days before the Prosecutor's Office held Patriciu, Băsescu had a meeting in Cotroceni with Tăriceanu, tackling the early elections once again. At the same time, the Liberals sent Băsescu, for the first time, an official statement in which they explicitly opposed early elections.

- Patriciu-Talpeș-Băsescu: Băsescu might have used Talpeș to get incriminating information on the Petromidia affair. Finding himself face against the wall and without any political support in PSD, Talpeș resigns from the party and rushes to Cotroceni to "officially" offer his services to Traian Băsescu. And since what he cared about was not Talpes, it was not at all difficult for Băsescu to turn him into a scapegoat in the Petromidia trial.

These conflict areas reflect at another two levels:

1. At a judicial level: the prosecutor's offices (General Prosecutor's Office and the Anti-corruption Prosecutor's Office) work alternatively as buffer zones and as areas for the various groups presented above "to settle their accounts."

2. At a media level, in particular in the two media holdings owned, on the one hand, by the Luca-Vântu- (Patriciu) group, namely Realitatea TV- "Ziua", and on the other hand by Dan Voiculescu (Antena 1 and Jurnalul Național): invited to Realitatea TV a few days after his release, Patriciu "lays a snare" (as he put it) for Talpeș, making him acknowledge the authenticity of the memorandum initiated against Petromidia and forwarded by the former presidential adviser (when still in office) to an official in Washington. The lawsuit filed by Patriciu with the International Court of Arbitrage in Washington nonetheless involves the State-, and, according to recent warnings sent by the American State Department, the Government of Romania is eyed.

Consequently, Patriciu is attacking, on the one hand, the former ruling party (the Iliescu wing, more precisely), and on the other hand the Romanian justice system (Prosecutor's Offices headed by people appointed by former President Iliescu, but also by the Government).   


PNL and upholding the Liberal identity


Independently or manipulated by Băsescu, Patriciu seems to act as the Trojan horse both within the D.A. Alliance, and in PNL. Known as a representative of the radical wing of PNL, Patriciu added new shades of meaning to its view on the party status quo. He is perfectly aware that both the Government, and PNL headed by Călin Popescu Tăriceanu lose more and more ground to Traian Băsescu and PD. All of a sudden, Patriciu and Tăriceanu become the craftsmen of the Liberal unification project, once launched by the Stoica wing. We would be tempted to believe that the two wings in PNL have finally reached an agreement on the party's doctrine identity. But it is not the case. The Liberals are farther apart from one another than some Liberals are from PD or even by PSD and/or from Traian Băsescu.

The Stoica group backed Stolojan as president of PNL. Valeriu Stoica was one of the "masterminds" of the Alliance, and the one to have a say on the mergers of PNL with ApR and UFD. Again Stoica is the one to plead today for a reorientation of PNL towards the popular lane, in view of redefining the Romanian political party system, following the British bipolar model. Unlike Stoica, for Patriciu (and his group), a Stolojan keeping a low profile in the shadow of the Palace- is a compromised political character. The (age-old) dream of PNL remains that of being the only promoters if Liberalism in the Romanian political arena. PNL's ultimate goal is to launch its own candidate (and obviously a winning one) to Cotroceni, and this candidate cannot be Theodor Stolojan, who depends on Traian Băsescu's power. Paradoxical as it may sound, the Liberal unification is today a compromise solution for preserving Liberals' pride and power, a solution standing better chances than the alternative of Liberals' staying in the Alliance. Realistic Liberals know that, in case of early elections or in the next elections, PD can forcefully negotiate its position in the Alliance and it may even upset the power balance between the two parties (currently 1:1,3 in favour of PNL). Consequently, the Liberal unification would offer PNL an opportunity to at least stand on equal footing with PD, even at the cost of losing some of the authority they currently enjoy inside the D.A. Alliance. And the relationship between PNL and PD would no longer be affected by the percentage the two parties would get in the next elections.           


Political advantages of the PD doctrine reconfiguration


PD is undergoing a dynamic process of reconstructing its power and authority in domestic political competition mechanisms. At the moment PD is creating two corridors which would later on ensure its supremacy in the Romanian political arena:

- The first corridor is at a media level: Traian Băsescu plays the part of a "deus abscons" ruling from above institutions and controlling, one way or another, all developments.

-The second corridor is at a political competition level: it is not by chance that Traian Băsescu eventually preferred Emil Boc (who was in fact the only carrier of PD's political messages) at the expense of Videanu and Blaga, rather seen as technical experts.

The "people's party" trend that currently absorbs most of the smaller parties turns them into increasingly attractive partners for future alliances or mergers. Moreover, the panic of early elections, so often brought up by President Băsescu, further pushes small parties towards merger or at least towards a political alliance with one of the D.A. parties, with PD in particular.

Once turned into a people's party, PD will be the most notable representative of this trend in Romania. It will consequently have a "preemptive right" over PNL, in the policy of negotiations for party unions, alliances or even mergers with PC, UDMR, Corneliu Ciontu's popular group and PPCD. Therefore, a prospective merger with the Liberals does not benefit PD. On the contrary, we may say considering all of the above.  


New times, same old practices


While in the Opposition, PNL and PD were criticising PSD for excessively politicising the local public administration and for anti-democratic practices. But apparently both PNL and PD, spellbound by political power, as PSD used to be before them, are doing precisely the same. On the one hand, PD proposes that all heads of decentralised services be replaced with Alliance representatives, who will work on four-year mandates. On the other hand, keen on preventing early elections at all costs, PNL moves both to modify the parliamentary majority yielded by the electoral process, and to change the governmental structure, by attracting Conservative ministers into PNL. Whereas changing the governmental algorithm is rather a matter of ethics, modification of the parliamentary majority is an attempt at stretching the boundaries of democracy.


What about PSD?


As for PSD, we see a party which for the time being finds it impossible to define itself. It is kept alive along two negative dimensions:

1. tensions within PSD: the only one present is Ion Iliescu, all other players are one way or another responding to the former president's acts. A reactive party, concerned with the construction of its leaders' internal authority, a party no longer holding the reins of power in order to conceal its internal division lines is definitely a weak party, vulnerable to attacks from all directions.

2. the media space: PSD is only a reflection of the power officials' reactions in the media. Moreover, PSD is treated and sanctioned, while in the Opposition, for the mistakes of the previous government, as it continues to live exclusively as a "barons' party," a State-party, "corrupt" and "anti-democratic," resorting to pressure on the justice and media.

The battle for political control

We are witnessing an uneven and atypical distribution of political power. Băsescu is the only autonomous player, against whom all other leaders, whether in Power or Opposition, define their positions. In the battle for supremacy and conservation of political power, Băsescu is alone for the moment, but he will unquestionably tow PD along, under electoral campaign conditions, given the excessive weight of individual leaders' influence on political party performance.

On the other hand, the D.A. Alliance Government (PUR and UDMR are quasi-irrelevant) behaves as if in the Opposition, and only when it comes to distribution of political offices does it remember it is in Power. When forced to take responsibility for the governance act, they become inconsistent or refer to the "heavy burden of the past."

Under the current circumstances, Patriciu remains a peon moving from one direction to another on the chessboard depending on the interests that spring at a particular point in time from the web of economic and political groups. Whereas PNL can hardly catch its breath, staggering in the thick mud of governance and always haunted by the ghost of early elections, obstinately brought up by Cotroceni, PD is forcefully waging an electoral war, which it is determined to win at all costs. Even if it takes the sacrificing of its Alliance partner.


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