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A minority PNL Government – contemplated with increasing earnestness

Dan BARBU

Political developments over the past few months, including the Conservatives’ decision to withdraw from the Government, the Democrats’ decision to run for the European Parliament separately from PNL and, more importantly, the irreversible split between President Traian Băsescu and Premier Călin Popescu Tăriceanu, brought forth the prospect of Romania being led by a minority Government, made up of PNL exclusively. At a declarative level, chances to see such an Executive team are remarkable. But for this political formula to be put into effect a number of conditions must be met, with the key resting primarily in Premier Călin Popescu Tăriceanu’s hands.

Restructuring – the first step towards a minority PNL Government

Much has been written and discussed lately about a possible withdrawal of the Democratic Party (PD) from the Government, which may spark a political crisis likely to lead even to early elections. This did not happen, for the obvious reason that PD officials have no interest in leaving the Government boat. The only politician who really wanted PD out of the Executive was President Traian Băsescu himself. But he seems to have stumbled on the Democratic leaders’ resistance, as the latter don’t believe they would stand to gain more if they left the Executive than if they stayed. Things have gone so far that the two D.A. Alliance parties, PNL and PD, suspect each other of planning to betray the other and to withdraw from the Government. Liberals have no reason whatsoever to leave the Government. They have the Prime Minister, Călin Popescu Tăriceanu, who has finally realised the extremely important prerogatives he has. This is why Premier Tăriceanu decided to tow the line and take the initiative, at PD and Traian Băsescu’s expense. This was evident when he announced that PNL was not necessarily tied to PD and that there were other political formulas that may ensure the governing process. One such formula is a minority PNL government. But how to get there? And who will support this government?
A Government restructuring has been intensively debated for several months now. As PM Tăriceanu put it, the restructuring is carried out rather than talked about, which means we will be presented with the fait accompli. With a party coalition still in place, a restructuring requires negotiations, as ministries and positions in the Government apparatus will be eliminated. Premier Călin Popescu Tăriceanu must choose between a restructuring that preserves the ruling coalition algorithm and a restructuring that will take PD and UDMR out of the game. Under these circumstances, the governmental restructuring may be a first step towards a minority PNL Government.

A minority PNL Cabinet – pros and cons

The key advantage offered by a minority PNL Cabinet is the political support that it may benefit from. Shortly after leaving Power, the Conservatives announced they were willing to back a minority PNL Cabinet headed by Călin Popescu Tăriceanu. The support message has been more than once reiterated by Conservative leaders, who threatened however that in case a minority PNL Government was formed, they would no longer back the Cabinet, particularly if the Democratic Party continued to be part of it. Moreover, PC announced plans to table a no-confidence motion against a three-party Executive (PNL-PD-UDMR). But the foremost supporter of a minority PNL Cabinet may be the main Opposition party, PSD. Already many signals are coming from senior PSD leaders, who are willing to support a minority Liberal government. The PSD message to PM Tăriceanu is quite clear: he should come up with a restructured Government formula, naturally without PD, and with a new governing programme, before they can expect eve minimal support from PSD. A coincidence or not, the PSD leader who was quite clear with respect to his support for a minority PNL Cabinet was Ion Iliescu. The ex-Head of State’s attitude may have been prompted by the attacks launched by incumbent President Traian Băsescu against PSD and Ion Iliescu. President Băsescu’s criticism of the political class, Opposition parties included, only gave fresh impetus to parties like PSD and PRM, which became credible partners in a future negotiation formula to back the minority Liberal Cabinet.
As for the disadvantages of having a minority Executive made up of Liberals exclusively, it should be noted that problems may be caused by the very ones who said they would support that Government. We should not overlook that PSD is an Opposition party, which goes through a long-term image crisis and seeks to score points at this level. Therefore it is not unlikely for the Social Democrats, after a short PNL – PSD cohabitation, to have a change of heart as concerns their support to the PNL Cabinet. There may be plenty of reasons, particularly tied to the governing programme and the acts pending for endorsement in Parliament. It is hard to believe that a future minority PNL Government backed by PSD could work on the principle: you pass our laws, and we leave you alone. Under these circumstances, the major problems with a would-be minority Government may be created by PSD itself.

A minority PNL Government concurrently with impeachment of the President

The final decision on a minority PNL government in Romania rests with Premier Călin Popescu Tăriceanu. He is currently in a highly favour: to continue to rely on PD, although the party has decided to run separately in the European elections, or to drive the democrats out of the Government and implicitly from Power. Judging by current political developments, things seem to be moving towards the latter scenario. But the Liberals should not overlook the Democrats who, if driven out of the Government, will seek revenge at all costs. On the other hand, the Liberals are not unlikely to continue to govern jointly with PD and UDMR, but on one condition: that the Democrats take some political distance from President Traian Băsescu. Which is rather improbable, particularly if the impeachment procedure results in removing the President.
Talks about a minority PNL Government and impeachment of the President are not accidental. The performance of such an Executive depends, to some extent, in the success of the impeachment procedure. If the procedure fails to remove President Băsescu, then chances for the medium and long-term functioning of a minority Government are low, considering that the Head of State will return into the political area stronger than ever.
It is a crucial political moment for Călin Popescu Tăriceanu, who has to choose between a minority PNL Cabinet with PSD backing, which involves huge risks, and political cohabitation with PD and Traian Băsescu, which, as we’ve seen so far, is not particularly easy.


By Dan BARBU

Publicat în : English  de la numărul 46

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