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Who won and who lost?

Cristian BANU

To be able to answer these questions, we must first define the framework of reference within which we operate: the 2004 electoral results, or the expectations before the ballot. Things are simple only as far as the President goes. The referendum was a full-fledged failure, and was followed by one of Traian Băsescu’s most embarrassing public appearances. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Traian Băsescu stutter so much, circulate unverified information, leave sentences unfinished and laugh hysterically.

Traian Băsescu

Calling for a referendum was a political mistake, since the Government had already en­ dor­sed a uninominal vote bill and the dispute now focused on nuances too abstract to understand.
The President might have at least used another question, e.g. “Choose between my uninominal version and Tăriceanu’s,” in which case he would have had a clearly defined opponent and the Government would have been forced to participate. But he didn’t, and found himself all alone. Moreover, he blocked the Government’s bill and in the forthcoming elections he will be labelled as “the man who blocked the uninominal system” by the other parties — and they won’t be too wrong either. Even if he promulgates the current bill (which I doubt, as this would mean he admits he was wrong), the damage is already done.
His second mistake was that he continued to rely on demagogy. OK, so “the others” are evil, corrupt, incom­petent. But where is the alternative? Sorin Frunzăverde? Marie-Jean Mari­nes­cu? Emil “Yes, Sir!” Boc? Adriean “The Kerb” Videanu? Elena Udrea? Ele­na Băsescu? Moreover, PD did abso­lu­tely nothing to stand apart in this cam­paign. They posed as the “prize win­ners’ class” and waited for their class master to do everything. Even worse, the President didn’t even come up with a bill to compete with the Govern­ment’s draft law. I think this is the first battle in which Traian Băsescu comes empty-handed before the electorate.
A third mistake was the deferral of the referendum date. Basically, every­body thought he only requested the referendum in order to campaign for PD without breaking the law (which is not true, but you can’t fight the public perception), given that he announced it after the Government had committed responsibility on the bill. The referen­dum thus became not a political move, but a fad, and the mobilisation could not be efficient since there was no imminent threat and the debate was too abstract anyway. It would have been a lot more reasonable for the Pre­sident to coagulate a group around his version, to organise public debates on his group’s and the Government’s versions and only then to call for a referendum and ask people to choose between the two. The voting system is a delicate issue, which ought to be discussed by experts. The others will get tired of it anyway, since they can’t grasp the fine points. So once again the President acted demagogically.
The predictable — albeit unexpec­tedly severe — failure will deprive Traian Băsescu of yet another rhe­to­rical tool, the “return to the people.” After the lost the “corruption” topic, af­ter he lost the “political class reform,” he now loses the “people” as well. The hurdles he is facing are a lot more serious than meets the eye.

P(L)D

A look at the parties now. PD won, if we take 2004 as a reference term. It was officially confirmed as Romania’s leading political party. But it’s a pyrrhic victory. In terms of the expectations created by previous opinion polls, PD reached 75% of its target. However, if we add the unhoped-for PLD percen­ta­ge, we get the expected score. Should PLD retain its aggressiveness, the PD share will further shrink, and I don’t think the Democrats will be happy about it. Basically, the same conflict that destroyed the D.A. Alliance will resurface in the presidential camp. PD pays the price of its lack of involvement in both the EP and the referendum campaigns. I find it hard to believe that PD deliberately stepped back to help PLD reach the electoral threshold. It doesn’t make sense.
Obviously, PLD had the advantage of a leader pushing party scores up (essentially their 8% are close to Stolojan’s maximum electoral poten­tial, about 11% in 2000), unlike the Democrats’ dull list. PLD is thus confir­med as the surprise of this election, and in my opinion problems in the presidential camp will only deepen, as the two parties will be unable to win over any electorate other than Traian Băsescu’s supporters, and will there­fore be forced to share a shrinking cake. On the whole, Traian Băsescu’s parties got less than poll-induced expectations and too little to secure access to Power.
This score sentences them to Oppo­sition, given that in PSD the anti-presidential side seems more powerful and a PSD-PNL-UDMR alliance would total 42%. In the forthcoming elections, 20% of the votes will be re-distributed, and the trio may get a comfortable majo­rity. Also, the growth potential is rather low. With every passing day Traian Băsescu loses mature and informed voters, who will most likely turn to PNL. In exchange, he may take over the anti-system electorate from Vadim, Becali and Gușă (about 10%). In fact, a solution would be to have the vote pool “segmented,” with PLD targe­ting the urban, informed, right-wing elec­torate and PD strengthening its anti-system, nationalist and “vigilante” rhetoric to make up for the 10%.

PSD

PSD also boasts a score above expec­­tations, which will soothe the Năs­­tase-Iliescu aggressiveness (alrea­dy damaging to the party), but will hardly change anything. The party lacks coherent leadership (Mircea Geoană has criticised the referendum, although he campaigned for the presi­dential version, if only at a rhetorical level) and a clear position in any of the camps. If the swinging goes on, some of the voters may well migrate to PNL as the only certain anti-presidential alternative. As indicated by the mediocre post-election statements, party leaders don’t seem to be aware that PSD lost its status as the country’s largest party, which means measures adjusted to the new status will be hard to take.
PNL
While PNL got a lower score than in 2004, it only lost 3% of that electorate, quite a performance for the only party affected by electoral erosion and coming under attacks from all sides. Of course, as compared to pre-election polls, there is a 3% increase. At present PNL is in a relatively difficult situation. Bringing disposable people in the governmental team may be OK at a certain stage of the war (with PNL under cross-fire, appointing major personalities was hard to do—look at the low blows dealt at Dăianu in the campaign), but from now on it becomes risky. The problem for PNL is not Remeș’s black pudding, but the very fact that someone like Remeș is a Cabinet member.
PNL’s score, quite decent under the circumstances, may be a sound basis for further growth. But for this to happen, the necessary Government reshuffling should bring competent people into the Cabinet, at least in sensitive areas (Public Health, Education, Finances, Foreign Affairs). There are already two examples of positive replacements (Meleșcanu as MoD—utterly surprising, to my mind, I would have expected media to badger him every day—and Ludovic Orban in the Transport Ministry).

The others
 
Many have equated PRM and PNG, which is a big mistake, as the electoral pools of the two parties have different profiles. With all his flaws, Vadim Tudor is educated, intelligent, and has first-rate writing skills. Although viewed by “refined intellectuals” as “garbage,” many of the “România Mare” features are well written. This is why Vadim Tudor has attracted the more educated voters, primarily including those who stood to lose (in social terms) from the Revolution: teachers, former Securitate members, military or militia staff, middle-ranking civil servants. Adding to these were former communist activists and those disappointed by the regime change, alongside individuals seduced by the nationalist-communist mythology and the conspiracy theory. This electorate will inevitable decrease through attrition. The Ardeal nationalist area will be appropriated by the Demo­cratic Party, deeply rooted in Transil­vania at present, very likely along with some of the PRM MPs.
Gigi Becali, on the other hand, is the political offshoot of the kitsch, low-class masses. Such voters are not reliable, and their social involvement is minimal. While many voiced support for Becali (“he rocks, dude!”), from here to bothering to go to a school to cast their votes there’s a long way. Becali himself is a much too shallow character to cope with the media coverage he has had ever since 2002-2003. With Traian Băsescu already tired, although he is slightly more solid than Becali, it was self-evident that the shepherd couldn’t have handled it forever. The 4% who bothered to vote for Becali’s party will most likely end up back in PSD, where they let from in the first place.
This election turned the electoral competition into a three-party battle (as PLD and PD share the same electorate). Still, there were close to 20% “dead” votes, which will not happen in the ensuing elections, when the share of wasted votes will be a lot smaller. The 2.6 % of PNȚCD and the 2.4 % of PC will very likely go to the Liberals, Vadim’s votes will go to PD, and Becali’s to PSD. In 2008 a competition is expected to begin between PSD and PNL over the headship of a possible ruling coalition, in which PNL, although having fewer votes than PSD at present, starts from pole-position.

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