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Parliament – a worthy opponent to Traian Băsescu

Dan BARBU

Seventeen years after the Revolution, it is for the first time that we can state that political power is in Parliament’s hands. And we owe it to President Traian Băsescu, whose actions succeeded in making the Legislative credible and in strengthening an institution which has “sheltered” anonyms for years and cast a perfunctory vote on laws serving the interests of the day’s Power. Today, thanks to President Băsescu, we see an extremely powerful Parliament, determined to impeach the Head of State and to no longer be used as massed infantry.

Traian Băsescu reaps what he has sown

That President Traian Băsescu is at war with everybody is no surprise for anyone. But this time around he got into a conflict that he will have a hard time winning. Shortly after taking over the Cotroceni seat, Traian Băsescu made the Government a target for his political attacks. He talked about illegitimate interest groups operating around ministries. Then came the attack against Prime Minister Călin Popescu Tăriceanu and implicitly against the National Liberal Party. The Head of State was obviously discontent with the Prime Minister’s declining to resign and thus to pave the way for early elections. Liberals in their turn would not play into President Băsescu’s hands and merge with the Democratic Party. The Premier’s decision not to resign and PNL’s reluctance to merge with PD are two of the major failures of Traian Basescu’s policy.
Under these circumstances, the Head of State looked for other political enemies and new political projects. One such political project was the document drawn up by the Tismăneanu Commission, concerning the condemnation of communism. President Traian Băsescu’s reading the statement that denounced communism in Parliament was met with a lot of hostility. Booing, insults, invectives, threats, all of them accompanied the Head of State’s address in Parliament. It has been quite long since we last saw a Parliament so hostile to a President of Romania. And still, the communism condemnation report was trivial compared to subsequent developments in the relationship between the President and Parliament.

Early elections, laws returned to Parliament and, eventually … impeaching the President

Basically, the war between the incumbent President of Romania and the Legislative started the minute Traian Băsescu uttered two magic words: “early elections.” Parliamentary parties, regardless of their political complexion, immediately saw the danger and identified the President as the main political opponent. No one in the current Legislative was, is or will ever be interested in early elections, for the obvious reason that they do not want to lose the current MP mandates. The conflict between the President and Parliament went on. Traian Băsescu stood out in the current term in office by returning to Parliament several bills that he regarded as incomplete, unconstitutional or discriminating. Coming back from Cotroceni Palace to the Parliament were thus a number of draft normative acts such as the Law on local elected officials, the Law on parliamentarians’ statute, the Referendum Act. More often than not MPs disregarded the presidential objections. For instance, the Legislative denied the Head of State the competence to organise a referendum on any topic that he believes to be of national interest and preserved parliamentary privileges intact, as they had been laid down in the draft statute. It is a first example of how Parliament meant to tell the President “who the daddy is” in institutional terms.
An important stage of the war between the President and Parliament took place in mid-2006, when an ad-hoc parliamentary majority taught Traian Băsescu to know his place as far as Gheorghe Fulga and Radu Timofte’s resignations were concerned. The Standing Bureaux of the two Chambers communicated the President that he had overstepped his attributions when requesting and accepting the resignations of the two intelligence service chiefs, that the Legislative is the one which appoints and therefore the only one in a position to discharge the two. This on the other hand was an example of how Parliament meant to oppose President Băsescu as vigorously as possible.
The climax of the conflict between the Head of State and Parliament was reached early this year. With attacks against the political class in full swing, President Traian Băsescu spoke in a meeting presenting the work report of the National Anti-corruption Directorate about “politicians who pass laws for criminals”. Parliament was no late in retorting, and asked the President to publicly apologise for the insulting statements against the institution. And this was not the end of it. The same Legislative would not change its schedule to accommodate the Head of State’s agenda, when the latter wanted to address the two Cambers on domestic policy issues. Further, the incumbent President delivered his speech to a shrunk assistance, as PSD, PRM and PC would not attend.

The threat to Traian Băsescu comes from Parliament

No one imagined that President Traian Băsescu’s major political problems were to come from an institution with one of the lowest public credibility rates. Parliament is known to poll among the lowest in terms of public confidence. There are many explanations for Parliament’s predicament; it is perceived as the place which hosts our elected representatives, paid from public money, but with many of them unknown even after four years of mandate.
President Traian Băsescu managed to make this institution credible and to strengthen its role, particularly through his conflict-driven political conduct. That the Head of State is on the verge of impeachment and that subsequently he may even be removed should come as no surprise. It is the outcome of two years of mandate during which President Traian Băsescu has displayed an overassertive attitude in relation to public institutions. Single-handed moves, e.g. the early elections plans, the drawing up of the national security laws in Cotroceni and, not least, direct attacks against lawmakers in Romania, have brought President Traian Băsescu on the verge of impeachment in Parliament. Even if he were not removed in the referendum, the impeachment would be a heavy blow to President Băsescu. It may be seen as a censure vote for the presidential institution headed by Traian Băsescu, who, as we see, only consulted parliamentary parties twice, in October 2005 and February 2006, in two years of mandate. Hardly enough for one who, before being a player-president, ought to be a mediator-president.
A lot of hostility has built up in the political arena against the Head of State, who is more than ever seen as a threat. The entire impeachment process is but a means to show Traian Băsescu that he is a president in a primarily parliamentary democracy.  (D. B.)

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