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SWOT analysis ahead of the local elections

Cristian BANU

Where do political parties stand, and what chances does each of them have to win as many local administration seats?


Our analysis indicates that the National Liberal Party (PNL) fares best, as it is the only party without internal disputes and clashes between local branches. The Democratic-Liberal Party (PD-L) is torn by many internal conflicts at a local level, which confirms what I predicted in “Cadran Politic” several months ago, and it is yet to figure out how to handle a predictable electoral failure in Bucharest (the absence of a strategy for the electoral defeat scenario is the only reason why the party hasn’t announced its candidate yet, although he has been known to everyone for three months now). The Social Democratic Party (PSD) must struggle with Marian Vanghelie’s desperate attempts to salvage his political career at the expense of the party.

Although PNL only stands at some 20 per cent in polls in Bucharest, it is the only party to have announced a serious candidate, with sound administrative experience as a vice-mayor and also with a leading position in his own party. All these put Orban in pole-position for the City Hall, and his prospective victory may radically change the political configuration ahead of the parliamentary election.

PD-L

After having used up most of the serious themes, PD-L brings a number of outmoded ideas to this campaign. They rely on the vilification of the PSD-PNL relationship, but Theodor Stolojan is hardly in a position to criticise Ion Iliescu: years ago, Stolojan was a member of the committee lobbying for Iliescu’s presidential bid, with Valeriu Stoica backing an alliance with PSD in 2000. Promoting Elena Băsescu, in an embarrassing move, was an epic self-goal for PD-L, and the current leadership line-up makes the “Let’s-clean-things-up” slogan sound rather mocking.
The fact that they are not in power and don’t have very powerful local leaders makes them the main losers in the election of county council chairpersons in the uninominal system. PSD has its local barons, PNL boasts prefects or ministers who have gained local visibility and sway. In theory, their primacy in opinion polls means they are the most likely to win elections held in one round. But only if the respective election was a party-list one. The best example is Bucharest itself: although in opinion polls they stand at close to 40%, they only have sound chances to win in District 3, where Negoiță did a good job. As for the rest, the City Hall included, they run the risk of failing to make it into the runoff. The uninominal election of county council chairmen means that the candidate will be important as well, not only the party.
For PD-L the main issue is how to disguise the failure in Bucharest. Since they haven’t come up with a solution, the delay of the official nomination tends to indicate fear, uncertainty, things that herald nothing good for a party regarded as the most powerful.
Last, this is a major handicap for PD-L, which enters the race as the unquestionable favourite, and this induces major expectations among voters. Any score below 35% will be perceived as a disaster and would deepen the nascent chaos affecting the Democratic Party and Traian Băsescu.
PD-L also faces serious internal issues, with local branches torn by severe internal disputes; the most recent scandal was reported in Buzău, but there are similar problems in Constanța or Timișoara.
A closer look at recent statements by the main party leaders reveals that they massively insist on the idea that PD-L will take power after the parlia­men­tary election, as Traian Băsescu pledges to nominate a PD prime-minister. Their calculations are OK if PD-L wins by 40%; but it only stands at 35% in friendly polls and around 31% in the competitors’ polls. The com­bi­ned score of PNL and PSD, on the rise, is already several percentage points over the Democrats’, and with UDMR as well it reaches 50% without redis­tribution.
Naturally, the idea that Stolojan may govern just fine on 40%, after Tăriceanu did so on only 20% seems logical and fair. But the question is, for how long can Stolojan govern with 40% approval rates? The answer is, “a few months, at best, until the presidential election.” With Traian Băsescu no lon­ger a president, the Stolojan Cabinet will be removed without hesitation, and replaced by one backed by a “parlia­men­tary majority”. But this will not hap­pen. Traian Băsescu will not appoint a PD premier unless he has parlia­men­tary majority (which he won’t).
He will not do it because, cheeky as Băsescu may be, he cannot afford to once again overlook the will of the elec­torate, especially after the disastrous results the first time he did so. Take a look at Adrian Năstase’s statements (in “Jurnalul național” or on his blog) and you will see that, as of recently, one idea has been recurrent: “Traian Băsescu rigged the 2004 election.” By the time of the presidential election, this idea will have gained substantial ground. What can Traian Băsescu answer to such accusations in the electoral campaign?
Traian Băsescu’s electoral cam­pai­gn will very likely rely on the idea that “the PNL-PSD coalition needs a watch­dog to keep it from stealing every­thi­ng.” With such an idea, he would stand some chances of re-election. Although I doubt it. People will tend to prefer a neutral president, like Emil Costan­ti­nescu, who also has the major advan­tage that he is only entitled to one more term in office, and as such is free from the “re-election” pressure. Five yea­rs of unremitting scandals have drai­ned the electorate.

Strengths

  • l It still benefits from Traian Băsescu’s support;
  • l The party has a number of electoral strongholds where winning will be easy;


Weaknesses

  • l Traian Băsescu is on a down­ward trend;
  • l Losing Bucharest will drama­ti­cally impact the party image;
  • l It is unable to outdo the 35% voting intention rate, which means a maximum 30% election score;
  • l Ever louder internal clashes (Bu­charest, Buzău, Constanța, Timiș…), which may spiral in the wake of poor electoral results;
  • l Political isolation;
  • l Lack of credible leaders – it is virtually the only political party without one promising leader, except perhaps for the District 3 Mayor, but his skills go hardly beyond the district borders.

Opportunities

  • l The support Traian Băsescu will provide during the campaign;

Threats

  • l The fact that it is not in power and has no chances to get there may impede upon its electoral success;
  • l Political isolation keeps it away from possible negotiations, which may entail a score much below its maximum potential;
  • l Much of its electorate is socially inactive; they are only attracted by the “vigilante” rhetoric, with nationalist hues, and as such they only vote in opinion polls;
  • l Internal clashes may undercut the mobilisation of activists.


PSD

Recent opinion polls put PSD at 25-28% in Bucharest, which means that the party is even higher at a national level. Unfortunately, PSD is divided over the City Hall candidate, which may lead to a poor score. But on the other hand, this may not affect the party, since Mircea Geoană is already viewed as an interim leader; after Adrian Năstase’s return to the forefront, Geoa­nă’s departure is only a matter of days.
The PSD upturn after Adrian Năs­tase’s comeback may be linked, among others, to Romanians’ need for an authoritarian leader (Vlad the Impaler still stands for good gover­nan­ce practice) – and apart from corrup­tion accusations, Adrian Năstase was the absolute chief and he remains a model of administrative efficiency. Af­ter all, if Nicolae Ceaușescu is re­gretted, why wouldn’t Adrian Năstase be as well? But we are yet to see whe­ther the former Premier has learned his lesson.
PSD is also at an advantage because the first elections are the locals ones, and they have a good administrative apparatus and sound local stature.

Strengths

  • l The local elections are sche­du­led first, and PSD may rely on its local barons; chances are it will carry around 30% of the votes, which would radically change the balance of power ahead of the ensuing parliamentary election;
  • l A good party management apparatus, which allows for good electoral mobilisation.

Weaknesses

  • l The negative image (but then again, at a time when the mass media tarnish all politicians, this is not necessarily a problem);
  • l Shortage of funds;
  • l A rather risky economic offer at present – reintroduction of the progressive taxation system may severely damage the State Budget;
  • l Ion Iliescu – too old, much too worn out in political battles;
  • l Weak leadership, with Mircea Geoană going from one blunder into another.


Opportunities

  • l If it sorts out its problems in Bucharest and comes up with a reasonable candidate, it may find itself competing with PNL in the runoff, which would be the ultimate humiliation for PD-L;
  • l Cooperation with PNL.


Threats

  • l Internal clashes may impact the electoral performance;
  • l Negotiations with PNL may be compromised if PSD insists on issues on which PNL will have no compromises, e.g. the flat tax rate (a major achievement of the Tăriceanu Government).

PNL


PNL sees an upward trend at pre­sent, drawing near to 20% in Bucha­rest. Unfortunately, this is not the case around the country. The Liberals’ main problem is that they have not even one county that they control. By having prefects and several ministers run for county council seats, the party may improve its electoral score and may well win several counties.
Their having announced their candidate for the Bucharest City Hall before all other parties and without problems gives PNL the upper hand on PSD and PD. But unfortunately the PNL offer for district mayors is rather hasty – most candidates are public adminis­tration experts, but have no visibility and public appeal. The district 2 and 6 candidates will likely win the seat with flying colours – Chiliman stands all chan­ces to be re-elected anyway.
One problem for PNL is that it has failed to efficiently communicate its governmental performances, which are not bad at all (6% economic growth rate, foreign investments, tackling so­cial injustice by raising pension bene­fits), and chose negative campaigns instead. These were effective in terms of reducing the opponents’ scores, but PNL has hardly capitalised on that. What they did is induce the idea that “parties are all the same” and drive the public away from politics.
PNL ought to focus now on positive campaigns, since the mass media already cover the others’ shortcomings well enough to let the Liberals mind their own.
The chance PNL has now is to market itself as the “third way,” an alternative to the FSN splinters.

Strengths

  • l The candidate line-up; PNL relies heavily on young experts, on new, uncompromised figures, which comes somewhat against the “personnel shortage” idea;
  • l PNL is in power and controls resources;
  • l The governmental performance was not that bad;
  • l It is on an upward trend;
  • l Opponents have used up most accusations;
  • l It’s not a leader’s party (there are at least 3 alternatives to Călin Popescu Tăriceanu);
  • l The goodwill of the business community;
  • l Although they paid for it, they haven’t given up principles (vehicle charge, public funding for mass media).

Weaknesses

  • l The hostility of the media – which matters less as the media lose credibility;
  • l Fateful image incidents that could have been easily avoided (the Remeș affair, Orban’s traffic incident);
  • l Inability to communicate positive results.

Opportunities

  • l It is the only significant right-wing party;
  • l Appealing ideology;
  • l Consistency in promoting right-wing policies (anti-communism, the denunciation of Securitate).

Threats

  • l Some governmental measures were labelled as “leftist” and they affect the party’s ideological identity;
  • l Negative media campaigns.


by Cristian BANU

Publicat în : English  de la numărul 55

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