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PNL as political vanguard

Arthur SUCIU

Călin Popescu Tăriceanu și Traian BăsescuOver the past three years, the National Liberal Party (PNL) has made a number of major political decisions that have changed its place in the political arena. The landmarks are its opposition to organising snap elections (2005) and taking the Democratic Party (PD) out of the government (2007). Today, PNL heads a minority government (jointly with UDMR), which is backed by most political forces in Parliament except for PD-L. The Tăriceanu Cabinet has cross-party support on key issues such as its very existence, and variable political support on specific legislation.

PNL has shifted from a poli­ti­cal and electoral alliance with PD to a conflict with this party. Some of the PNL leaders were expelled from the party in 2006, in a move to avert an internecine war. The dissident group headed by the ex-chairman Theodor Stolojan esta­bli­shed PLD, which merged into PD in late 2007. While in 2004 PSD was the main opponent of PNL, the two parties later found themselves forced to cooperate. And cooperate they did, to avoid early elections and to oppose President Traian Băsescu and PD-L.
Traian Băsescu’s attack against PNL was the main factor that changed the medium-term orientation of PNL. However, a number of decisions made by political parties had an impact on the government and made PNL take radical steps. While the Conservative Party (PC, ex-PUR) was persuaded to join the ruling coalition after the 2004 elections, this party’s withdrawal in end-2006 deprived the Government of a parliamentary majority. In the new political context, PSD prevented the fall of the Cabinet, but it virtually strong-armed PNL into supporting the impeachment of President Băsescu.
The removal of challengers from PNL was followed by the removal of PD from the Government. The decision broad­ened the scope of PNL’s exe­cutive control to key areas such as the judiciary. PNL took full respon­sibility for the governance, and the Executive turned into a political stronghold. A PD-PSD-PLD alliance in Parliament failed to pass a motion to censure the Cabinet (autumn 2007).

The electorate’s preference for a multi-party system

Elections to the European Parlia­ment have proven that, notwith­stan­ding a continuing electoral preference for PD (currently PD-L), this is unlikely to induce a radical change, i.e. to bring PD-L in power as a major party. Simi­larly, the referendum on the unino­minal system indicated that Traian Băsescu is still backed by most voters, yet this hardly amounts to revolu­tionary enthusiasm with his projects. The EP election heralded the formation of a multi-party system, which would apparently operate as a two-and-a-half-party system. Should UDMR fail to make it into Parliament, PNL would act as the “half-party” which decides on the next ruling alliance.
With PD-L claiming the dominant party status, a major question refers to the PNL pre-electoral strategy. The PLD - PD merger rid PNL of a right-wing challenger, but strengthened the Liberal component of Traian Băsescu’s party. The merger sheds light on the association of PNL with PSD and other parties (PC and UDMR). What should PNL do: accept this association, or take a distance, if only in terms of rhetoric? Does PNL want to become an alternative, or is it content to act as a hinge-party?

The Liberals’ rational options

The association with PSD is dictated by circumstances, and is questionable, both politically and election-wise. PNL may seek legitimacy in a democratic alliance project oppo­sed to Traian Băsescu and PD-L. This would require a broad pre-electoral alliance as an alternative to Băsescu’s party. PNL may only tacitly join such an alliance, which should only be officially sealed after the election. PNL can only become an alternative if it proposes a change whose scope is comparable to the one proposed by President Traian Băsescu. It also requires the linking of PSD to PD-L, by emphasising negative image features shared by the two parties.
With elections drawing near, the PSD pressure on the Government is expec­ted to surge as well. This will force PNL to strike back, and will thus call for a strategy to handle attacks (which will most likely focus on the economic theme). The reaction of PNL be all the more legitimate after the return to the PSD forefront of Adrian Năstase (Traian Băsescu and PNL’s opponent in the 2004 electoral cam­paign).
In political terms, PNL and PSD are the two vanguard directions, but both face serious credibility issues. Mircea Geoană’s flawed management allowed the reactivation of Ion Iliescu and, as of recently, of Adrian Năstase, in an effort to avenge the 2004 election and ultimately to complete the return to the Iliescu paradigm. The prospect is by no means favourable for PNL, which fought, jointly with PNȚCD and later with PD, to defeat Iliescu and Năstase. PNL had no management problems; instead, its own historical-Liberal para­digm was appropriated by Traian Bă­sescu, the new self-professed axis of the right wing. PNL must do everything it takes to prove to the electorate that this claim is without grounds. For Ion Iliescu and Adrian Năstase, the oppo­nent is Traian Băsescu. The two will do their best to radicalise the camps back to the 2004 level. This threatens to marginalise PNL in the political and electoral war.

PNL and freedom from ideologies

In the Liberal view, the anti-com­munist right and crypto-communist left are prisoners to a Marxist-like dialectic progress. On the one hand, Ion Iliescu tried to impose the ideological primacy of the “working class”; on the other hand, Traian Băsescu wishes to im­pose the ideology of the elitist civil so­ciety and of the frustrated bourgeoisie. Each camp has its prophets and ideals, but none of them has been able to generate well-being, a rule of law and com­pliance with democratic regu­la­tions. Apparently the two camps are in permanent conflict; they create a sen­se of unceasing revolution and are unable to put an end to the transition in Romania. Essentially, Iliescu and Bă­sescu belong to the same crypto-communism paradigm, they are the pro­phets of the same world, of a world which is due to disappear. Ion Iliescu and Traian Băsescu’s grand social re­form projects conceal the most mali­cious corruption misdeeds, the ma­ni­pu­lation of voters, the delays in Ro­ma­nia’s development. Things are even more serious today, as the battle a­gainst corruption is used to an unpre­cedented extent as an ideological tool in the political battle, and it virtually infringes upon the rule of law in Ro­mania. Ion Iliescu and Traian Băsescu are the prophets born under Ceau­șes­cu’s cloak. They both go half-measure, they alternate consensus and conflict, they make use of rigid majoritarianism, they pitch one social class or gene­ra­tion against the other, all in view of staying in Power. Since 1989 to date, PNL has had to take sides, to be on the side of one or another of the camps involved in the political battle. It’s high time PNL brought this battle to an end.
Instead of “the class struggle” bet­ween Băsescu and Iliescu, PNL ought to propose a social conflict between citi­zens with equal rights. PNL may replace the Marxist ideology that keeps the political class in constant conflict and obviously overlooking citizens’ agenda. PNL may impose the appli­ca­tion of sectoral public policies, directly aimed at settling citizens’ problems. PNL may suggest that politics be freed from ideology.
Romania has retained and indeed deepened its identity complexes since 1989, and Traian Băsescu and Ion Iliescu are expressions of these com­ple­xes. They both contributed to Ro­mania’s international isolation, they both wanted to carry on the line of Romanian exceptionalism, they both claimed a historic mission, etc. In the name of a better Romania, of an ideal Romania, Ion Iliescu and Traian Bă­ses­cu have divided, disunited Romanians.
Instead of a Romania with an intricate identity, PNL has a chance to come up with a project of a Romania of individuals and of differences. Instead of an obsolete, tensioned, utopian Romania, PNL may propose a relaxed, open, good-humoured Romania.

by Arthur SUCIU

Publicat în : English  de la numărul 54


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