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Who’s doing political opposition in Romania?

Cristian BANU

The presidential election victory secured by Traian Băsescu, who mandated the PNL-PD Alliance to form the Government, has resulted, close to one and a half years later, in the absence of any political opposition. Although formally PSD and PRM are two important parties in the parliamentary Opposition, their political actions are far from what Opposition parties should do.

How did we get here? How serious is the fact that Romania lacks political opposition? What are the causes of this political occurrence? These are questions worth answering if we are to understand the current political context and the future of the party system in Romania.


A phenomenon with negative consequences


Over 16 years after the Revolution, Romania is facing a new political phenomenon, but which may have negative consequences in the long run: the lack of political opposition. While prior to 2005 we were used to talk about strong political parties in the Opposition, whether it was PSD (former PDSR) or CDR, the new political Power settled in after the general elections in the autumn of 2004 seems to have no political competitor on the Opposition seats. The Parliament political structure, as it resulted from the 2004 elections, including President Traian Băsescu’s victory, indicates PSD and PRM as the main opposition parties, at least in terms of MP numbers.


PSD, looking for a new identity


The problems facing PSD lately have affected more than we could have imagined the political strength of this party, which is no longer capable of political reaction. A brief review of these problems would help us understand better the situation that the Social Democratic Party is experiencing. Two major events shaped the party’s political evolution: the Convention in April 2005 and Adrian Năstase’s giving up his political offices. As far as the Convention goes, PSD representatives from around the country decided to oust Ion Iliescu and install a new leading team, made up of Mircea Geoană, Adrian Năstase and Miron Mitrea. At that time, it was assumed that PSD will benefit from a political re-launch, although many saw no need to do this since, although it didn’t make it to Power, the party carried at least 30% of the votes. We should not overlook that PSD had got more votes that the PNL-PD Alliance, which is best reflected by the distribution of Parliament seats. Ion Iliescu’s isolation and Geoană, Năstase and Mitrea’s taking charge failed to stimulate PSD’s political actions. On the contrary, the party got splintered into factions, each grouped around one of the three leaders, but also around Ion Iliescu. What we witnessed was the political fragmentation of PSD. The party turned from a monolith into an assemblage of groups and factions revolving around political leaders.

Perhaps the key moment in shaping PSD’s subsequent development was Adrian Năstase’s resignation as executive president of the party and Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies. The launch of criminal investigations in the “Zambaccian” file, as well as the problems related to Aunt Tamara’s heritage, triggered a significant reaction even inside the party. PSD branches withdrew their political support for Adrian Năstase, who was forced to leave his key public offices. Concurrently with Năstase’s public image, his party was also affected. Although it was assumed that Adrian Năstase’s stepping down will not impact the image of PSD, opinion polls proved that the former ruling party lost much of the electorate which supported it in 2004, to settle somewhere around 20%. A small figure for an Opposition party which should have normally risen in polls as the ruling parties slid down.

PSD’s last strong political reply as the main Opposition party came in 2005, during the battles for changing the Chamber and Senate Regulations, with a view to replacing the two speakers, Adrian Năstase and Nicolae Văcăroiu. The manner in which PSD fought inside and outside Parliament suggested that the party still had resources to prove itself as a strong opposition party. Where PNL-PD Alliance MPs failed, Adrian Năstase’s own party succeeded, forcing him to give up the Chamber Speaker position.

At the moment, PSD’s performance is mediocre, as the party fails to fight back the PNL-PD Alliance and President Traian Băsescu. If this goes on, PSD risks being no longer perceived as the main alternative to the political Power. Another risk looming is that PSD will become a party which, because of its low percentage, may enter various political combinations, even with ruling parties. This is the most serious threat facing PSD, which risks turning into an easy to control pocket-size party.


Not even PRM


So if PSD isn’t doing political opposition, who is? PRM? Out of the question. In fact, Greater Romania Party no longer is the radical opposition party it used to be. It started to join various political combinations with ruling parties, the best example in this respect being its support to Liberal Bogdan Olteanu for the Chamber of Deputies helm.


Băsescu, in charge with the opposition


Surprising as it may seem, the main political opposition in Romania at the time is represented by President Traian Băsescu, more often than not backed by PD. The Head of State’s attacks against Premier Călin Popescu Tăriceanu and the Executive are the best example to prove who’s in charge with Romania’s political Opposition. Attack topics launched by Traian Băsescu are the ones that should have been used by PSD or PRM. The Government receives more frequent and harsh criticism from Cotroceni Palace than from the Opposition seats. It is not surprising that attacks against the Executive come from Traian Băsescu, who stated from the very beginning that he will be a player-president. However, as far as political system normality is concerned, we expect the toughest attacks against Power to come from the parliamentary Opposition, rather than from the Head of State, who belongs to the same political family as a ruling party. To oversimplify a little, one may say that PNL is governing and PD and Traian Băsescu make up the main political Opposition. Which is proved by opinion polls as well, where voters’ options for the Liberals are on the slope, while PD and Traian Băsescu benefit from high public confidence rates.

Romania is witnessing a new situation in political terms. While they officially make up the political Opposition, PSD and PRM seem unable to overcome their mediocrity. PSD is far from solving its internal problems. Although party officials talk about the need for early elections, this political rhetoric hides the lack of a political strategy able to bring the party back to the forefront of political Opposition. The lack of alternatives to the current Power may have negative effects impossible to measure today, but which in the long run may impact the entire political system, which needs strong Opposition forces able to offset the ruling ones.



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