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The PSD motion—an attempt to reposition the party in the political arena?

Mihaela ENACHE

In spite of the parliamentary recess, the Social Democratic Party (PSD) announcement of a no-confidence motion against the Tăriceanu Cabinet set the Romanian political arena on fire.

The goal of this somewhat unexpected move was subject to speculations, as most of the political class expressed distrust as to the determination of PSD to actually go through with it, particularly given that the party is hardly prepared for a new electoral race.
In spite of the parliamentary recess, the Social Democratic Party (PSD) announcement of a no-confidence motion against the Tăriceanu Cabinet set the Romanian political arena on fire. The goal of this somewhat unexpected move was subject to speculations, as most of the political class expressed distrust as to the determination of PSD to actually go through with it, particularly given that the party is hardly prepared for a new electoral race.
Generally, a motion of censure may be triggered by larger-scale reasons, having to do with the instability of the political class, but in this specific case it is closely tied to the tensions within the main opposition party, PSD.

Political instability is a very general cause, in the sense that it represents the context which favours a number of destabilising moves. It is mostly generated by the Government lacking parliamentary support. This made the Government vulnerable and, implicitly, it strengthened the Opposition’s indirect role in the governance.
Recent developments in the political life led to a highly ambiguous configuration of the political arena. After the Democratic Party (PD) stepped out of the Government, the line between Power and Opposition became rather blurred, and relations between parties became erratic.
Ruling jointly with UDMR, the National Liberal Party (PNL) doesn’t have enough political strength and parliamentary support to cope with an increasingly robust and diverse opposition. The decision on the parliamentary cooperation with PSD was pragmatic, based on a number of common objectives, including the hostility for PD. Although never officially admitted, the cooperation between the two parties was a fact. The relationship between PNL and PSD gradually worsened after the Tăriceanu 2 Cabinet was formed. This happened primarily as the Liberals failed to appoint PSD members to local public administration structures, in exchange for the parliamentary support that this party was granting to PNL. PSD expected a number of benefits in exchange for the support given to the Liberals, such as allocation of funds to its elected representatives in the local administration.
On the other hand, PNL is the target of a large-scale negative campaign coming from PD, as regards its cooperation with PSD, and at the onset of a new parliamentary session the threat of legislative isolation is a rather bleak prospect.

PSD needs to clarify its political position

As I was saying, there is no doubt that the key reason for the PSD plan to table the motion of censure is closely tied to its internal situation. In other words, any move by PSD as regards its relation to Power may be seen as a response to changes in the power ratio within PSD. The main opposition party has so far failed to set up a team and to come up with a coherent plan for the next electoral competition. Internal reform pressures on the party over the past few years generated tensions and conflicts between groups which have different views on the process.
One may state that the main strategy of PSD since it lost Power in 2004 was to undermine the D.A. Alliance and to claim the unfeasibility of cooperation between PD and PNL. With or without the intervention of PSD, this divorce did take place, but the main opposition party had no clear strategy to define its position as to the split. As we have also seen at the referendum on Traian Băsescu’s impeachment, the main opposition party seems unable to outline a long-term strategy for itself, nor can it predict moves and reactions in the political arena. In fact, the clash between PSD groups is reinforced by the divergent views as regards the party’s strategy with respect to PNL and PD. Taking shape in PSD are at least two major trends—one supports the cooperation with PD, the other pushes for a dialogue with PNL. Those who favour the cooperation with PD hope for a future governmental cooperation, after the 2008 elections; the current dialogue and cooperation with PNL is aimed at short-term advantages and benefits. This conflict—deepened by the leadership crisis—expands as the forthcoming electoral year requires a consistent position of PSD in the political arena. The underlying cause of the tension within PSD is the lack of firm leadership and of a clearly defined relation as to Power. The indecision between various strategies and the absence of clear-cut coordinates in the relationship with power and opposition parties fuel the insecurity and frustration of both local branches and central structures of the party. Facing tremendous pressure coming from both PSD groups and local branches, Mircea Geoană resorted to makeshift solutions, but he doesn’t have a long-term strategy. PSD takes a highly ambiguous position—it cannot fulfil its mission as the main opposition party, but neither can it act as a party in a ruling partnership. We can safely state that decisions regarding the PSD relation to PNL or PD have been the result of the influence of one or the other of the groups in the party.
The decision to back the Tăriceanu 2 Cabinet was aimed at preventing early elections, but also at securing positions in the local and central administration. Since the impeachment referendum, Mircea Geoană’s position in PSD has gradually declined, and pressures by branch leaders have grown stronger. It is a proven fact that local relations are very diverse, depending on the relationships that local PSD branches have with either PD or PNL. A solution was found at the time: to support the Tăriceanu 2 Cabinet, in exchange for administration posts and for a number of budgetary allocations for certain counties. As these promises have not been kept, the internal tension deepened and the need for actions to clarify the position of PSD in the political arena has become critical.
As far as PSD is concerned, taking PD out of the ruling coalition was a strategically wrong decision. Not only did PD present itself as the victim of a PNL-PSD plot, but it also managed to publicise and vilify the de facto alliance of the two parties. Moreover, PD has tried, for the past few months, to compromise and downplay PSD’s status as the main opposition party and struggled to define itself to the public as a genuine opposition party. As such, PD skyrocketed in opinion polls. Even when in Power with PNL, PD had relatively satisfying scores, a direct consequence of President Traian Băsescu’s approval rates.
     One may say that with its recent moves in the political arena, PSD has placed itself in a very ambiguous and inefficient position: it is both in the Opposition (but unable to derive benefits in polls) and in Power, through the inconspicuous cooperation with and support to PNL (but it fails to derive any benefits from it either). Consequently, we may infer that by tabling a no-confidence motion, PSD does mean to remove the Tăriceanu 2 Cabinet and is seeking to change its position in the political arena. As he announced the tabling of a motion of censure, Mircea Geoană meant to herald a change and to re-channel the attention of PSD groups from internal issues to the relations with the other parties. The main opposition party obviously needs a new move to clarify its position in the political arena. Should the motion pass and the Government be brought down, the new Cabinet may be headed by a PSD or a PD member. In both scenarios, the PSD position in the political arena will be clarified, one way or another: it will either be part of a ruling alliance, or it will be able to act as an opposition party. If PD took over the government leadership, it would take responsibility for the governance and implicitly it may be expected to fall in opinion polls. But without doubt, in any of the governmental formulas chosen after the removal of the Tăriceanu Cabinet, PSD would be able to reconsider its status in the political arena and do away with the current ambiguity of its position. Moreover, the consistency of its position—either Power, or Opposition—may ease out the internal discontent and turmoil generated by the lack of a firm position in the political arena. With PD taking leadership of a possible new government, PSD would have an opportunity to criticise a ruling Democratic Party in the next electoral campaign. Once in Power, PD would be forced out of a space which secured it media and electoral benefits, namely the Opposition.
Another element to be considered is that the motion criticises the activity of the right-wing government as a whole, i.e. of the Tăriceanu 1 Cabinet, hence the reserves PD has as to backing this motion. Under these circumstances, the motion stands slim chances to pass, and the significance of the PSD no-confidence motion is essentially symbolic. Specifically, on the one hand PSD means to prove to its electorate that it cooperates with neither PNL nor PD, and on the other hand it means to warn the Liberals that it is high time they kept their promises.
We may thus conclude that, regardless of its outcome, the no-confidence motion is aimed at clarifying the status of PSD in the political arena, as party leader Mircea Geoană seeks to enhance the credibility of his position, both within PSD and among the other political parties.

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