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PSD fretting

Cătălin BARBU

Looking at the recent moves of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), one can't help wondering what all this commotion that seems to have taken over party leaders is all about. One motion of no confidence after the other, meetings of party members, bombshell statements, attempts at joining forces with other parties...

If we were to believe Mircea Geoană, it only takes one flick for the incumbent Cabinet to fall, with PSD certain to take over power within two-three months. It organises countless actions, press conferences, young people wearing red T-shirts down in the streets, in market places, everywhere. Party leaders drop on among the people, talk to them, curse the Power together with "the masses." They reassure pensioners, shake hands with the young, kiss babies on their cheeks. A terrible excitement, not to be found in any other party in Romania. Although Mircea Geoană looks fake and artificial in such crowd-bathing, he is helped - indeed overshadowed - by Marian Vanghelie, who seems to have taken over Ion Iliescu's role as a communicator with the masses. Vanghelie is a lot closer to "our times" than the former communist leader who I believe no longer impresses anyone today. I am quite positive that, if he benefited from better media coverage, Vanghelie's performances would be comparable to Gigi Becali's. In any case, they are better than anything Ion Iliescu would be able to do today. Vanghelie is part of the new public landscape marked by "Becali-sation."

The PSD president means to completely break up with the past: he changed the logo colour, he plans on replacing the roses with cranes (although for the time being answers with respect to the new party logo are unconvincing).

All this frenzy only managed to baffle for good an electorate already confused by the corruption charges brought against party leaders, but also by "Granny" being taken out of the spotlight. The party falls in opinion polls from one month to the next, and very soon the 20% share will be a nice dream for the former State-party.

Under these circumstances, one is bound to wonder whether party leaders have lost the little good judgment they had left (if any). Not only are PSD's moves illogical, but they are also contradicting each other, reinforcing the image of complete chaos. On the one hand, there is the party cleaning and re-branding action, on the other hand a protocol with Greater Romania Party (PRM). On the one hand, leaders with image problems such as Adrian Năstase and Dan Ioan Popescu stepped back, on the other hand Mircea Geoană negotiates with recently-exposed snitch Voiculescu on how to bring the Government down. On the one hand, the party targets the urban, young, above the average income electorate (at least at a theoretical level), on the other hand it comes up precisely with the proposals that attacks its incomes. It would give up Ion Iliescu as he doesn't fit into the party's youthful image, but on the other hand it craves for the electorate Iliescu (still?) has.

At present, PSD pursues two major attack lines:

- There is no way the incumbent cabinet can survive, it will fall thanks to one of the countless motions of censure PSD keeps tabling, and early elections will be organised in the forthcoming period.

- PSD and PD prepare to rule together.

PSD is missing it by a mile in both cases. Let's take them in turn:

There is no way the incumbent Government will fall, at least by January 1, 2007, and this is evident to the naked eye. Also, early elections would be bad news for the party. At the moment, PSD has some 35% of the Parliament seats. Current polls rate it at 20% at most, therefore the party would lose half of what it has at present. Why would anyone want to see one's force decrease? Particularly since early elections are hard to organise. For this to happen, PNL must also want it (which it doesn't), but also PSD MPs must want it, and they are not as stupid as to shoot themselves in the foot. This is evident with the motions of censure, which don't even carry all the PSD votes in Parliament.

The second topic, the cooperation with PD, is also weird. For the time being only the PSD leaders talk publicly about such cooperation, whereas PD seems to reject it. In any case, for the Democrats and for President Traian Băsescu this cooperation would be political suicide. Although the move is logical in all respects, at present PD cannot get closer to PSD directly without losing part of its electorate. Because hardliners in both parties have been trained to see the other party as "the enemy" and will not accept now to buddy up with their lifetime rivals.

Moreover, both parties are facing serious identity issues at present. PSD is trying to get rid of the "party of the corrupt" label and to look for an electorate other than the poor peasants who slept with Ion Iliescu's picture under their pillows. Although it has a distinct ideology, PSD is no longer perceived as a left-wing party, since none of its leaders is a credible left-wing man, as Ion Iliescu used to be. If we add the illogical-to say the least-moves (the protocol with PRM, negotiations with Voiculescu, negotiations with PD) what we get is the image of a party acting spasmodically, irrationally, falling for any story... It's basically an organisation without management. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that an increasing number of people regret Tavi Cozmâncă (and it is tragic that this former Communist Party activist is Romania's best political organiser).

On the other hand, the Democratic Party (PD) only exists as Traian Băsescu's shadow. The party lacks substance, vision. At present their ideology is fuzzy and there are chances for the party not to be accepted in the European People's Party.

Which is why everybody would stand to lose from the merger of the two parties. While in theory the two merged parties should reach somewhere around 50%, we can rule out at least 15% from the very beginning, accounting for the hard core in both parties which would not accept such a merger, adding to which would be another about 10%, disappointed with the "reconstruction of FSN". So two parties of 20-25% of the electorate would yield one... 20-25% party.

The question then arises, why do PSD leaders launch such topics? The only explanation I can think of is that Mircea Geoană simply can't make the grade, so in order to prove that he has it under control he will swallow any proposal, whether it matches the party strategies and tactics or not.

There are three wings in PSD at present: "the Cluj group," which negotiates the cooperation with the Democratic Party and virtually the only one which has some public credibility. The Ion Iliescu group, on stand-by at the moment and waiting for the right time to move, i.e. either to start from scratch, launching "the truly left-wing party," or to join the Ioan Rus group in PD - the good relationship between Ion Iliescu and Traian Băsescu is well known, although to my mind taking "Granny" in would be too much for a self-styled "party for the future." The third group is made up of those who belong in prison (Mitrea, Năstase, Dan Ioan Popescu, Hrebenciuc), who look for individual rescue solutions. Apart from these major groups, there are also smaller, local ones, tied by trans-party interests and which in their turn negotiate their local survival solutions, regardless of the "wing" they belong to (they may be supporters of Adrian Năstase, Mitrea, Ion Iliescu, etc.).

Therefore Mircea Geoană's chaotic moves are triggered by the temporary influence of one such leader or another. For this reason we can no longer talk about one PSD, but about at least three, each with its different future: some of them at the periphery of politics - I find it hard to believe that any of the PSD heavyweights will end up behind bars, but for Adrian Năstase his current marginalisation is certainly more painful than any judicial penalty; others will join the Democratic Party and form the European left-wing party; others will simply be victims of political attrition.




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