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The coallition against Băsescu

Arthur SUCIU

The note scandal brought about two novelties for Romania’s political life of the past two years: President Traian Băsescu was cornered, and PSD came into the spotlight as the main Opposition force. The image impact on the President was notable, particularly as his choices, indeed his mistakes, were surprising.

Traian Băsescu relied on the consistency of the efects his own behaviour had on the others. The Head of State had been accustomed to attacking, without his opponents being able to reply adequately and convincingly. But Premier Tăriceanu’s reaction, first, and PSD’s reaction later on revealed a major change in their position as to the President. One can safely state that from now on Traian Băsescu’s mission will be a lot more difficult.

Which comes as no surprise, considering that in the meantime several variables of the political context had changed. First, the EU accession constraints were removed. Since January 1, 2007 the Government has no longer been bound to ensure at all costs the political stability needed for the attainment of a pressing and critical objective. This relaxation allowed the more or less latent conflicts between political forces to burst out and, more importantly, to proliferate beyond control. Leaving Traian Băsescu’s penchant for scandal aside, the current political system is facing severe operation problems, which have deepened over the past 17 years and which are now bound to surface.

Second, in late 2006 and early 2007 we witnessed interesting reposition moves by PNL and PSD, with which President Băsescu has had an adversarial relationship over the past two years. The Liberals have firmly taken a distance from Stolojan’s followers, reconfirmed Călin Popescu Tăriceanu as party president and conveyed an unambiguous anti-Băsescu message in their congress. Roughly the same happened in the PSD convention. Mircea Geoană was re-elected for a four-year mandate, and Ion Iliescu resumed a senior party position. This latter move signalled that PSD had no intention to give up the dominant party status it held in the post-1989 period. Iliescu’s comeback, on the other hand, can be explained by the regression generated by tensions between Băsescu and Tăriceanu. Just as Năstase’s fall in early 2006 triggered conflicting relations within the Alliance, Iliescu’s return is the effect of these deepening conflicts. The part played by Năstase in 2005, as Băsescu’s opponent, has been taken over by old-hand Iliescu.


The temptation


But Traian Băsescu’s mistake is not only in his positioning as to PNL and PSD. The President acted against his own political “instinct” when giving in to Elenei Udrea’s temptation to publish the note sent by Călin Popescu Tăriceanu. While most analysts believe the scandal was schemed in Cotroceni, Băsescu’s atypical reaction indicates that the scenario had an entirely different source, and that the Head of State only went with the flow. In the famous “Sinteza zilei” show on Antena 3, Elena Udrea used the note in order to elicit a reaction to certain attacks launched against her by the Liberals (the RAAPPS affair). Unable to solve her own problems, she tried to transfer the conflict to a higher—indeed the highest—level. Therefore it was not the media, as Gabriel Liiceanu suggested trying to defend Băsescu, but Elena Udrea which made it all burst out.


The regression to Iliescu


Traian Băsescu answered the request to publish the note rather late and unconvincingly, which proves he was not certain he was doing the right thing. However, the novelty in this scandal was by far not the note contents, but Tăriceanu’s counter-attack. The PNL president immediately made public statements to prevent the formation of a dominant opinion trend against. He was neither vehement, nor compelling, yet unexpectedly enough he launched a direct attack against Traian Băsescu. Which caught the Head of State on the wrong foot, as he had completely overlooked Tăriceanu’s obvious change after January 1, 2007. Beyond his personal decision to finally fight back, the Premier was forced to take this attitude by the outcome of the PNL congress. More than ever before, Băsescu’s attack had targeted the Liberal president and implicitly PNL.

Obviously, Tăriceanu’s reply could not help. On the contrary, it made things worse, with PNL and PD on the verge of breaking up for good. Moreover, whereas over the past two years the Premier, subject to the President’s recurrent criticism, had been spared by the other parties, his reaction managed to radicalise opposition against the Alliance as a whole. The scandal percolated the entire political system, inevitably reaching Ion Iliescu. His energetic comeback is a decisive moment for the current political life.




For the first time since the 2004 elections, PSD acted like a genuine Opposition party, launching the impeachment procedure and threatening a motion of no confidence against the Government. This step of PSD could not have been possible without the excessive media coverage of the note scandal. But it was Traian Băsescu who consolidated the Social Democrats’ option, through yet another mistake: the attack against Ion Iliescu on TVR.

The anti-Iliescu position had been suggested by Gabriel Liiceanu — in a Realitatea TV talk show titled “Altfel” (“differently”) — at a time when the President was rather confused. Although the position as such is not entirely incorrect, the timing of the attack against Iliescu is wrong. The public expected Traian Băsescu to settle problems in the D.A. Alliance, rather than to point an accusing finger at some other person or party. But the Head of State tried to avoid the presentation of the serious condition of the Alliance, bringing back to the forefront Iliescu’s questionable past and trying to blame everything on it. Băsescu’s statements thus reassigned the former head of state the attributes of a privileged opponent of right-wing parties and of PD, in other words they breathed new life into Ion Iliescu (the old schema of Petre Roman’s removal as head of government during the 1991 miners’ riot). Thus, PSD returns as the main opponent of Traian Băsescu and of PD, in the infamous war of the FSN “schism” (1991), while PNL may take a distance from this local left-wing conflict. The return to an anti-Iliescu position may question the legitimacy of PD’s doctrine shift and may thus re-launch PNL as a legitimate right-wing party. The proposal to cooperate in impeaching Traian Băsescu, as made by PSD to PNL, is precisely aimed at reinstating the political spectrum: the right for PNL, and the left for PSD, whereas PD emerges as an unwelcome centre party.

At the moment, Traian Băsescu has made a risky choice, a single-handed battle against both PSD and PNL. Those two are helped by the PC and PRM in an ad-hoc coallition against Băsescu, between parties so different one from each other, but unite by a common goal: to overthrone Băsescu. We shall see what will come of it. What we can say for now is that preparations are being made for an “all-out war.”

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