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Tăriceanu's chance


Although denied by all those involved, the crisis within the D.A. Alliance tends to deepen and generate a number of perverse effects in the long run, as basically it is the crisis of the birth of a different approach on politics. The so-called crisis is rather a curtain covering other crises within the Romanian political community, crises which in fact have never ceased to exist and which are aimed at securing power and influence to a certain group or a certain individual. Therefore the Alliance crisis is a mere echo of the crises taking place inside the Romanian political volcano.

Since the 2004 elections, the idea of early elections has been brought up more than once; furthermore, early elections have been desirable to most of the groups in the ruling coalition, in the hope that they would thus manage to obtain legitimate grounds for increased power and to muffle the voice of the Opposition, whichever it may be. It is for the first time that the cynicism of power is openly expressed, through the voice of the main message carriers, and not of just another Power politician asking Opposition Senators to "put a sock in it." Early elections seemed, and are still seen by some observers as some sort of universal solution to the problems in the Romanian political arena, problems which appear to require a strong majority in order to be solved. However, a closer look at the political programmes of parliamentary parties shows that most of them want to solve the same problems, usually by the same means as well: corruption through justice, justice through reform, reform through market economy and so on. Moreover, all parties have already stated that all laws needed for the European Union integration will be passed by Parliament with flying colours - which has actually happened so far. So why are early elections necessary, and who needs them in 2005?

Paradoxically as it may seem, the first who needs early elections is Traian Băsescu. Like any first-rate political player, he knows that in five years' time he will need a political structure to enable him to again run successfully for the presidential seat. This structure has never existed before (it was established for Stolojan, and Băsescu used it illegitimately) and it doesn't exist at present, although it bears the name of D.A. Alliance. Băsescu was quite right when he understood that this party hotchpotch runs smoothly at election times and in crises, but loses its effectiveness in quiet post-electoral periods. This happens because, with the battle over governmental offices, the already frail alliance between PNL and PD would immediately splinter into tiny groups that pursue power and personal or group interests. And re-coagulation can only be achieved when those who seemed engaged in an all-out war are attacked by one who is more powerful (and in the D.A. opinion, this third party is PSD).

For this reason, Băsescu, who is well aware of what a coalition government involves, has pushed since the very beginning for either snap elections or a PNL-PD merger, precisely in order to become the leader of a strong enough political formula, which he would be able to control over a longer period. Because the ghost of Constantinescu, eventually deserted by his own party as well, is probably still haunting the Cotroceni palace. It is his prospective transformation into such a ghost that forced Traian Băsescu to undertake the "player-president" role, i.e. a president massively involved in the nation's affairs, although, under the Constitution, once the Premier is appointed the President of Romania must entrust the Government with this attribution.

In this respect, Băsescu does not break the pattern of Romania's post-1990 presidents. Whoever reads the memoirs (as far as they have been released) of former prime ministers, can see that, directly or covertly, both Iliescu and Constantinescu were massively involved in governance. And when the premiers of that time tried to push the presidential umbrella aside, they were dealt heavy blows, either through the miners' riots (like in 1991), or through rigged resignations (like in 1999). The only premiers who would not dance to the presidential music were precisely outsiders such as Stolojan or Isărescu, that is those called to clean the mess after the presidential-governmental parties.

This is why Tăriceanu is desperately struggling to strengthen his position in the party and to dismantle internecine pressure groups, led by either Valeriu Stoica, Stolojan, or less conspicuous characters, in order to ensure his control at least in PNL, in view of the tough political battles to be expected this autumn. And Mona Muscă's resignation as both a Minister and PNL vice-president is only a battle in this internal war of attrition.

Tăriceanu is thus waging a political battle on at least three fronts: an internal one, one with the Palace- - perhaps the hardest of them - and, closely tied to the latter, one with the Democratic Party headed by Emil Boc. All the three frontlines put the Premier under tremendous pressure, although in the meantime he is expected to run the country. Hardly does Tăriceanu make a domestic policy statement, that Băsescu fancies that the Premier hasn't visited the flood-devastated bridge for too long, or that some ministers are controlled by pressure groups, and so on. Almost immediately, it dawns on Boc that something is going wrong in the Government, particularly with the Conservative ministers, and Ionuț Popescu stands up against a political formula to credit the Brasov-based tractor maker. But such pressure is fatal for a politician, strong and sharp as he may be, at least unless he selects powerful and faithful allies.

Tăriceanu has proven he is a strong politician when he announced he gave up the resignation idea, very likely imposed on him by the President, in view of building a new majority. But in the meantime Băsescu had realised that he might achieve more, perhaps even replace the Premier, initially confident that his interim mandate is secured. The moment new names started to be mentioned in view of taking over the interim Premier mandate, Tăriceanu realised that at stake was not only his future as a politician, but also the future of his party. Which is when, in spite of the citizens' alleged disrespect for the Premier's lack of honour, Tăriceanu withdrew his resignation, which he probably shouldn't have announced in the first place. As we have seen, his change of heart triggered more disappointment in PD than among the citizens, who, faced with the disasters caused by floods, had anything but early elections on their minds.

Since he gave up the resignation, Tăriceanu has been struggling with a pile of problems, scandals, statements and pressure, which all prove that the incumbent Prime Minister is not a comfortable guy to handle by those who would like to seize the whole power for as long as possible - such as Mrs. Udrea & Co.

They know that in terms of image the Premier is outperformed by the President, a more sociable and "people" person, and that this handicap increases as governmental decisions eat into the Premier's popularity. And these governmental decisions, one must add, are by no means easy, in particular as far as the integration into an increasingly difficult Europe- - in economic and political terms - is concerned. However, unless he turns into a loner the Premier still stands good chances to overcome the host of institutional and economic hurdles, and to only be left to face the huge political obstacles. And, as we have stated above, he could overcome the latter only by forging alliances.

The first, and perhaps the most important ally for the Premier could be the media, which endorsed and assisted Traian Băsescu in his electoral campaign more than anyone else. And recently, an increasing number of voices in the media have stood up against the President, either because they feel betrayed or because the President himself has become a lot harsher with the media than his predecessors or than Traian Băsescu the would-be president. And, since the media preserve their anti-PSD stand, the one who could benefit, even for a short while, from the media goodwill is PM Tăriceanu and his Cabinet. Naturally, this takes a lot more finesse and even some slyness, which Mr. Tăriceanu doesn't seem to possess. He thinks it is easier to get the people to like him by attending Masses, inaugurations or motorway repairs. But, being a townsman, and in particular a Bucharester, he is forgetting that popularity is hard to win and easy to lose. Especially when one is labelled as belonging to a different social layer - that of post-revolution parvenus.

Incidentally, I would like to once again point out the resemblance between Călin Popescu Tăriceanu and Mircea Geoană, two emblematic characters for the new generation in the political and social environment, persons with a different poise, with a different manner of talking and of approaching issues, characters which break the old pattern of the Communist apparatchick. Characters which, naturally, are not yet numerous and not at ease in a world of coarse, uncivil or irresolute individuals. On the other hand, they emerged in a rather ambiguous context, with the very young generation keen on making it very quickly to the top, at times with the support of the very old, at the expense of the middle-aged, such as the two aforesaid politicians.

The second ally, and perhaps of equal (though rather symbolic) power, could be represented by the intellectuals, the ones who actually won the revolution, but lost the power after 1990, never to recover it to this day. That is, those message carries which everyone looks up to, acknowledges, but which in any competition would lose to characters such as Giurgiu or Sulfina Barbu. (Incidentally again, I still cannot understand why Liiceanu or Cristian Pârvulescu are not members of the public television board, whereas stained - to say the least - persons are climbing up to the top of the ladder!) Those intellectuals who are well aware of the information system taken over from the period right after 1989 and politically-levered, on which President Basescu still relies heavily, those intellectuals who still believe that democracy means freedom, those intellectuals who hope power is an act of ethics and not of cynicism.

And last, a third ally of the Premier may be, and must be Europe, as in the European Union, the one which doesn't give a fig on those who delegate power, and which has faith in those who have power and use it.

All these, and perhaps even more, could back Premier Tăriceanu (and the PNL president, for that matter), if he called them. I only hope he will, once the reshuffling, in which he was too little involved, is completed.  

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Institutul de Proiecte pentru Inovatie si Dezvoltare The National Centre for Sustainable Development