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Farewell, but stand by me till next year

Cristian BANU

The recent escalation of disagreements between D.A. Alliance partners seems to rule out any possibility of cooperation between the Liberals and Democrats and to push things towards early elections and a reconfiguring of the political arena. But this will happen after the accession, next year at the soonest. For the time being, each party I trying to assert as clearly as possible its own identity.

The timing is not particularly well chosen. The former State-party is on the verge of collapse. The bickering within the current Power given them hope and instead of changing something, PSD is frozen in a status-quo which actually benefits nobody. It will most likely muffle it all and its members will stick together around their incumbent leaders, stirred by the prospect of power looming in the distance. Because, paradoxically enough, PSD will almost certain make it to Power, as neither PNL nor PD will be able to make a government on their own. A recent opinion poll (although carried out by an obscure polling institute in the Republic of Moldova, CIVIS, figures seem to be in line with developments in the political arena) indicates relatively similar scores for the three parties (27% PD and PPCD, 25% PNL and 20% PSD). And since there seems to be no more hope for cooperation between PD and PNL, as the Alliance is breaking apart both at a local level (with the Protocol already cancelled in some three counties) and at a national level, the only option left for any of the two parties is PSD.


The Liberal attack


Tăriceanu himself launched the attack, with a vigour he has so far failed to display. If the Liberals go along this "anti-FSN" discourse, they stand good chances of winning over the civil society and the urban electorate and to seize much of the Alliance's core electorate. The Liberals' major advantage as compared to the Democrats is that they do have their own electorate, which remains faithful in spite of the blunders and stupidities PNL did while in Power (in part, for lack of any true alternatives). Also, the Liberals may capitalise on the electorate of defunct PNTCD and on the Magyar electorate (driven away by the Democrats' nationalist rhetoric), by taking over the Democratic Convention and Civic Alliance discourse, which remains valid as long as the issues it tackles are still there.

We are still to see the voters' reaction as to a prospective reconstruction of FSN. For the time being, this reconstruction is rather suspected, predicted, a logical inference rather than a reality, and it is by no means out of the question for PSD to trick Băsescu, leaving him high and dry as the Christian Democrats had. In principle, this reaction may be positive, but the fact is that the move will not agree with many of Băsescu's current supporters. What is evident at this point is that there is a clear positioning: Liberals vs. FSN.

According to a recent poll, in case the two parties run separately, only 30 per cent of the D.A. Alliance would vote for PNL, and the others with PD. Keeping in mind that they all account for approx. 50 per cent of the total electorate, this would leave PNL with about 15% of the votes, that is, precisely as much as it had in 2004. Basically, this means that PNL has its own, constant voters, which stood by this party in spite of the inevitable attrition of their image as a ruling party. Further to the recent CNSAS scandal, the PNL ties with the "militant" civil society strengthened, which can only be beneficial as it involves very important image carriers, quite influential among the core electorate of the Justice and Truth Alliance. If it plays its trump cards well, PNL may increase its popularity with this category and may capitalise on the truly right-wing electorate, which will grow to 20-25%. This would naturally be impossible if a trumpet such as Ludovic Orban is kept in the forefront. It's true, he counterbalances Traian Băsescu's discourse, only that the Liberals' target group is altogether different, namely one which doesn't take pleasure in sheer boorishness. One cannot reach elites with pub speeches.


The PD repositioning


On the other side, the Democratic Party no longer seems interested in the original electorate of the Alliance. PD seems to turn its eyes to Ion Iliescu and Vadim Tudor's votes. Without a clear identity, the presidential party embraces any populist idea it can find, only to discard it as soon as the "nation" no longer takes interest in it.

This was the case with the appointment of the public television Board when, after PNL and PD had agreed on the membership, all of a sudden, at a signal coming from Cotroceni, PD dropped the idea. The same happened with removing Adrian Năstase and Nicolae Văcăroiu as speakers of the Parliament Chambers, when suddenly the President decided that "this is no longer a priority." Now the President feels he is "distant, both in terms of space, and in terms of interest" from CNSAS, although the plotting is evident.

In fact most pf the President's concerns are rather related to image elements than to the people's actual concerns: the hostage crisis, the Mărăcineni Bridge, the Olt Valley, a foreign policy focused on the US - a country less concerned with democracy, civil freedoms or economic performances as long as its agenda is supported, which Romania is doing in Iraq or Afghanistan, although the bulk of foreign funds are coming from the European Union; only that the latter has the bad taste of imposing drastic criteria.

In this respect, Traian Băsescu and PD have scored decisive points in terms of image, particularly since Tăriceanu can hardly boast any charisma and is most of the time caught off guard. In political terms, Traian Băsescu is successful. Unfortunately for him, the party that backs him lacks any credibility, as its president has a public confidence rate comparable to "politically out-of-use" Adrian Năstase.

PD rose from some 7-10% to close to 30%. A substantial increase, exclusively owing to President Băsescu. Beyond this, there is nothing. The official party leader enjoys the same public confidence rate as Adrian Năstase, which is tale-telling for this party's actual capacity. And other leaders don't even get mentioned in polls. PD mainly eyes the undetermined electorate, which is not interested in political debates, but wants and waits for "miracles."This is the direction of Democratic political leaders, a recent example in this respect being Boc's imperative request to the Labour Minister to "raise pension benefits of the 1,300,000 people for whom pension recalculation brought no benefits," as if the purpose of the recalculation process had been to bring financial benefits to anyone, rather than eliminating stark discrepancies. The PD growth is fuelled by that part of PSD which is in disarray, mainly Ion Iliescu's former voters, as well as part of Vadim Tudor's electorate disappointed with the Tribune's fluctuations but too "intellectual" to choose Gigi Becali.

PD is quite vulnerable today. It is a giant with clay feet. Its existence depends on one person alone: Traian Băsescu, while the rest of its leaders are seen as puppets manoeuvred from Cotroceni. For this reason the Democratic Party can be annihilated, if Traian Băsescu is annihilated. And the latter is already at odds with 90% of the mass-media and civil society.


Reconstructing FSN?


Given that PD and PSD have always had relatively similar positions with respect to particular topics, such as ownership, security, former senior communist leaders, an affiliation of the two parties seems inevitable. After all, the initial FSN splintered because of personal problems between Petre Roman and Ion Iliescu, rather than because of ideological divergences. The rivalry was later taken on by the heirs of the original leaders, Traian Băsescu and Adrian Năstase respectively. Today Petre Roman and Ion Iliescu are getting along as they used to in the days of yore, Adrian Năstase is out of the game and Traian Băsescu keeps Ion Iliescu "in his esteem." In this respect, there are no hindrances to rebuilding the original FSN.

Moreover, Traian Băsescu desperately needs a party with a good organisation, given that PD lacks any kind of powerful structures, a strong party apparatus, not to mention credible leaders, since Boc and Videanu are entered under the "others" heading in opinion polls. Traian Băsescu attempted to get such an organisation from PNL, yet his lack of diplomacy and his lack of team skills got on Liberals' nerves and made the cooperation impossible. Now the scaffolding may be provided by PSD, a party experiencing a major top-level crisis, with none of its leaders enjoying true legitimacy and power in the party, in short a party which would happily surrender to the President in exchange for power.

The association with a "reformed" PSD thus seems normal and logical, considering the affinities between the two, particularly since PSD is drifting without a "guiding light." To a certain extent, it is also required by the Liberals' recent positioning, which lays emphasis on the anti-communist and anti-Securitate discourse, where they spotted the Achilles' heel.And apparently they got it right, since they had the President cornered for the first time. His reaction (having rejected the Liberals' nomination for the ministerial office Olteanu left vacant) sounded like a surprising "up yours!"So far, in the war between the Democrats and Liberals, the President has always had an acid, calculated, superior retort, making the Liberals look like a bunch of teenagers caught smoking in the school. Băsescu's odd reaction suggests that for the first time the Liberals had the initiative and forced Democrats into defence. And the fact that the President was caught off guard and reacts randomly was proven in the Romanian Intelligence Service meeting, when he proposed some at least preposterous solutions. And people already dub him Băsecu. The battle is likely to be waged, in the future, by Liberals and FSN.





by Cosmin BRATU

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