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Băsescu Against Them All

Cristian BANU

Beyond the more or less ironic comments, the move to impeach the President has a number of major consequences on his political future, on the future developments in the “war” between him and the anti-presidential coalition, and on his relationship with the parties which support him, PLD and PD. Placing PLD first is not an accident, it was the President’s very choice, since he showed up in the University Square hand in hand with Stolojan, and not Traian Boc.

Lame stagecraft

The first surprising thing about the change of mind is the lame staging. Thursday afternoon here comes Stolojan in the Square, out of the blue, and asks the “crowd” supporting the President, as if in a kindergarten game, “Don’t you think that the President should not resign?” “We do, we do!” the “crowd” answers as one. We would have expected the Stolojan-Basescu couple to come up with something more spectacular, more dramatic, comparable to the “Dear Stolo” soap staged just before the elections. Probably aware that it was not enough, we see Videanu the next day, presenting an alleged bill claimed to prohibit the President from running for office again. But this was even more stupid of the President. When he announced he would resign, didn’t he imagine anything like this coming? What did he think, that the others will simply watch him campaign for re-election?
No one forced him to announce his resignation. It was a unilateral move, and assumingly the President weighed up the consequences. I don’t believe it takes a genius to grasp the several threats entailed by such a move, the most important of which is that opponents may prevent one from running again, one way or another. Particularly since the circumstances of the announcement are hardly clear, and seem to indicate serious hesitations. But the President was not happy with merely giving up the resignation plan; he even seemed to be clinging on to his seat, by challenging the suspension with the Constitutional Court.

Defence doesn’t agree with the President

All these small and unspectacular facts indicate that the President is scared. Increasingly scared. Fear paralyses his moves and makes him look ridiculous. All the President does is defend himself— an ever more unconvincing and pathetic defence. But defence doesn’t agree with Băsescu—or with PD, for that matter. In his case, resignation would have been a much better choice. The resignation announcement was his first attack for the past three months. But he took it back. Defence doesn’t benefit the Democrats either. Ever since they were kicked out of Power and embraced a defensive attitude, they have been increasingly pathetic. Suffice it to read their news releases, to find savoury samples of unintended humour.
At first sight, one can say that the President chose to play it safe. He stands sound chances to be reconfirmed to office in the referendum, given that impeachment conditions are rather hard to meet. Even if vote results are against him, it is highly unlikely that the turnout will be sufficient.
So the question is, why did Traian Băsescu choose to spoil his brand, to play on unfamiliar and unfavourable ground — in the referendum there is no opponent, Băsescu will be shadowboxing when he needs a tangible opponent to be able to express his views — and to settle for an unclear victory, which grants him neither the legitimacy he needed, nor genuine confirmation.
Since everyone has been using the parallel with poker and bluffing, I believe the explanation lies in the poker player’s psychology. The more he loses and the larger the debts, the more will he try various schemes to rebound and cover losses. As I see it, Traian Băsescu wants to return to Cotroceni as soon as possible, to recover and to try to get back in the game. Had he resigned, there would have been a three-month electoral campaign during which his image might have eroded enough to threaten the victory. Once back in office, he may once again wield pressure on opponents.
But I don’t think this is a good strategy. This “pressure” cannot be different from the one wielded on the Constitutional Court, on UDMR, on Dan Voiculescu and PC, on Dinu Patriciu and Adrian Năstase, which amounts to circus show and threatens to become boring, not to mention its ineffectiveness as far as the President is concerned. He would discredit the idea of justice, one of the last trump cards he has (perhaps the last, now that he has changed his mind and he no longer is the man of his word he pretended to be).

A different Traian Băsescu

Traian Băsescu today is nothing like what he was one month ago. His track record now includes a vote defeat and a humiliating change of mind. His opponents smelled the blood and are sure to strike. Now that they know they can do it, nothing prevents them from suspending him once again, in which case Băsescu may lose. I firmly believe that plans are afoot to depose the President.
Traian Băsescu’s recent actions also prove that he has no strategy and that he reacts instinctively; but his instincts begin to fall short. He no longer has advisers able to help him overcome the difficulty and get back on his feet. On the other side, there are both strategists, and advisers (while mocked by media and PD members, Tăriceanu’s advisers prove efficient). The suspension vote proved that there is also some coordination, with the Olteanu-Hrebenciuc couple perfectly managing the attack.
The two rallies organised in Bucharest so far, with a rather modest attendance, have revealed that the President is no longer able to attract crowds.
Also, a quite surprising element over the past few days was the modest presence of PD leaders, from the University Square moment to the Brasov one in a weekend. Although there are support messages — coming from Videanu, Boc, Sulfina Barbu — we can also see the first official indications of disobedience, with PD vice-president Ion Olteanu committing the first lese majesty crime. PLD stole their thunder, and PD leaders were pushed to the background... I am certain that the Democrats are by no means happy with the Băsescu-Stolojan friendship, as they may find themselves overlooked in the President’s plans for the future and, given the party’s current dependence on him, they may be tempted to seek individual rescue solutions in PNL or PSD.
A splintering of PD — ever more likely under these circumstances — would substantially simplify the electoral equation, with PSD and PNL remaining the major players. The presidential party, PLD, stands sound chances to become a second Greater Romania Party (PRM), i.e. an anti-system, populist-nationalist party, with good regional representation but relatively modest at a national level and therefore always left out of governmental alliances. There’s a difference, though: PRM has always benefited from the covert support of PSD, in exchange for votes in Parliament, whereas PLD will have no one to cooperate with.

PD, whereto?

It is too soon to tell where PD will choose to go — Gigi Becali — offered to take it over, it may be an option but it is quite evident what the others will choose. PNL and PSD got rid of a mighty opponent. Traian Băsescu has turned into just another politician, no better that Tăriceanu, for instance. This new alliance will not make the same mistake Traian Băsescu made—to start an internecine strife before fully eliminating the common enemy. The two will not organise elections until PD is either dismantled or reduced to an irrelevant player in the political battle.
PSD stands to gain most. It has proved its political strength, so now it can win back some of the voters driven away by the internal bickering. Călin Popescu Tăriceanu also stands to gain, because with Băsescu in Cotroceni, PSD cannot table a motion of censure to get him dismissed (I am by no means certain that PSD wants this, but “better safe than sorry”). Having proved its own political strength, PNL may grow and consolidate its position as a right-wing leader.
Under the “losses” heading we have Gigi Becali. Given the strength proved by the two major sources of his electorate, PSD and PRM, Gigi Becali will lose in the medium run. By election time, his party will probably go down below the parliamentary threshold, and thus a much overrated presence will be brought to an end.
Last, the most important change I expect to see is at an electorate level. So far, since 1996 every electoral change was seen as a revolution, with more and more hopes pinned on each new Power. The vote was anti-something, rather than pro-something. After three consecutive failures, I think the electorate will be more pragmatic and will vote with their minds, rather than with their hearts. And by this I don’t mean a vote cast on electoral platforms or political programmes, but a rational, positive vote. I am a left-wing individual, therefore I vote for PSD. I am right-wing, so I vote for PNL. I am a patriot, I will vote for PRM/PNG. This will eliminate small parties, e.g. PIN, PNȚCD, and calculations on voting for X so that Y may not win the ballot.
And for this, we have President Băsescu to thank to. Rephrasing a saying in our Literature Department, which goes, “Eugen Simion is the best critic in Nicolae Manolescu’s time”, I should say that Traian Băsescu was the best president in Ion Iliescu’s time. The time has come for something else. We must give credit to Traian Băsescu for having shaken this wasps’ nest — i.e., our political class—hard enough to change it, and to change the electorate as well. But unfortunately for him, Traian Băsescu des not understand that it is not the political class which doesn’t keep up with the times, but he is the obsolete one. The very factor which triggered the change ends up being at odds with the new context generated by the change. Paradoxically, both PSD and PNL are better thanks to Traian Băsescu (obviously, a lot must still be done in both). The President alone (and the parties supporting him) are stuck in hostility, in the concept of “enemy,” of “perpetual revolution,” in the temptation to divide the Romanian society into “good” and “evil,” “poor” and “rich,” and fail to understand that it is not the President, but the Court which should pronounce people “guilty.”

by Cristian BANU

Publicat în : English  de la numărul 47

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