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Parties after the elections

Cristian BANU

While polls indicated a winner, the tabulation changes things a little. I don’t believe polls are designed to mislead (although obviously there were biased presentations of poll rates), but rather the gap is accounted for by the dual conduct of certain respondents who gave what they saw as „desirable answers,„ since an option for the National Liberal Party (PNL) or the Social Democratic Party (PSD) was drastically censured by mass media generally hostile to these parties.

I don’t believe there is a net „winner„ of the elections, as each party won something and lost something in exchange. By far the greatest surprise was, of course, the poor nation-wide result of the Demo­crats (I’m glad to remind our readers that “Cadran politic” magazine was the only one to give a pretty close forecast: we estimated the Democrats would carry 25%) and then the good national returns for PNL (for which we expected 20%).
A key feature of these elections —and one which will prevail in the Romanian politics from now on — is the pragmatic vote. In all cases, „proven incompetence” was preferred to uncertain competence. People voted for those who „at least have done something” and turned down uncertain and/or unconvincing alternatives. The most relevant case is that of PNL in Bucharest, where candidates were proposed who, although competent, lacked a reputation and, more impor­tantly, lacked the support of their own party. In this respect, looking back, we find that PNL wasted the chance represented by Ludovic Orban, by far in the best position to run the City Hall. Virtually on their own, PNL runners got poor scores, below the party’s national average, and kept down the overall results in Bucharest.


The Democrats confirm the downward trend they and their leader have been experiencing. Four years of perpetual electoral campaigning and tension have made the electorate weary and have worn out all campaign themes, as their opponents managed to „bring them to a common deno­mi­nator”. In turn, the Democrats’ efforts targeting a „moral cleaning”, „anti-corruption”, „anti-communism”, „re­for­m of the political class” failed, while at the same time they severely undercut their favourite image vectors: the civil society and some mass media.
The most important message for the Democrats is that they can’t take victory for granted. Landslide wins (Bu­charest’s District 3, Cluj, etc.) were reported exclusively where opponents yielded from the very beginning, and promoted unknown candidates. Where they had worthy opponents, the Democrats’ stars (Berceanu, Preda, Boureanu) were humiliated. A likely loss in Bucharest is a negative signal for the general election.
The Democrats are lucky, though, because the Liberals have a poor management and will be unable to capitalise on this year’s very good economic performances, otherwise they would have found it rather difficult to remain the country’s second most important party, especially since the Democrats’ right-wing identity is highly questionable.
Worth mentioning in this respect is a theme recently approached by the media, with a disastrous potential for the Democrats: Traian Băsescu’s left-wing identity. Emerged on the sidelines of the debate on a „left-wing Capital“ vs. „right-wing Capital,„ the idea may gain ground in the mainstream, ruining any trace of the Democrats’ right-wing identity (especially after the Liberal dissenters have lost any identity in PD and, except for Valeriu Stoica, perhaps, they are no longer perceived as  Liberals at all). (Which is why I don’t use the „-L“ in the party’s name; this appendix may be dropped quite soon anyway.)
The poor rates in the urban envi­ronment (seen as „right-wing” — inac­curately, to my mind, because in fact urban voters simply reject PSD, rather than embrace right-wing values, but that’s another kettle of fish) may be the result of this ideological fuzziness. Although they changed their doctrine, the Democrats have retained a left-wing rhetoric, and have recently shifted towards cheap populism, which falls short of the urban voters’ actual expectations.
Obviously, the downward trend of PD is intimately related to the fall in President Băsescu’s approval rates. It may be a coincidence, but the departure of the Săftoius seems to have disastrous effects in terms of the President’s appearance, defined lately by a rather long line of “unforced” errors.
One such “unforced” error of the Democrats is the emphasis on the „Sorin Oprescu-Ion Iliescu-miners’ riots” argument in the runoff election in Bucharest. Telling 20-year old tales to exasperated citizens who waste hours in traffic jams is bad strategic thinking. I bet many of those who voted for Oprescu are aware of his Social-Democratic background and of his friendship with Ion Iliescu. He was simply voted for being something else, distinct from the „kerbstone kings’ dynasty”, whereas Blaga promised to carry on Videanu’s projects — not particularly a good idea. Ion Iliescu’s problems are relatively abstract (com­munism, miners’ riots, stagnation, etc.), while the problems of PD are spe­cific (kerbstones, administrative chaos, inconvenient construction sites). Moreover, what better way to help an anti-system independent, than pitching the system against him?


PSD bounced back, and it is more unfair to contrast it with the 2004 party, when things were entirely different, than with 2007, when it was below 20% because of blunders blamed on Mircea Geoană, but for which the party as a whole is accountable. Many of Geoană’s moves failed because he was not backed by the party. These elections clearly proved that, if mobilised, PSD works miracles. The communist party training is evident here.
The result will encourage PSD to return to its orthodox views, after a “deviationist” spell. People keep talking about this party’s failure to “reform” and about how it should change. But I wonder whether this is the right approach. It is not “reforming” that PSD needs most, but time. It took time for public perceptions to shift from the communist party to PSD, and today the party is, without doubt, closer to the European left than it is to communism. Attempts to skip stages proved to be wrong. The tactical mistake of PSD was that it took over the opponents’ rhetoric and line of reasoning.
The main challenge for PSD ahead of the general election is to come to terms with Ion Iliescu. The parricide attempt not only proved disastrous for the party, but it also confused its voters. „Children” cannot murder their fathers — even symbolically — so the right thing to do would be to stand by him, with all his flaws, and learn to live with his legacy (and Aunt Tamara’s...). Pas­sions and personal aversion aside, the role of the PSD founding father is critical to the development of the party, and his comeback proved beneficial.
Other than that, the main problem PSD has is that it is hardly a team, instead of a collection of individuals sharing specific interests. And the new election type will further deepen this splintering. This is where Ion Iliescu may come in handy.


National rates outdo by far some people’s modest expectations; in this respect, PNL is the nice surprise of these elections. But what I find rec­kless is PNL’s approach of the election in Bucharest, as reflected by the mediocre results here—roughly half of the national average, although Ludovic Orban would have been, according to most observers, the best solution for Bucharest. PNL thus takes up the same path that led PSD to decline: internecine strife undercut party efforts.
The close to 20% score achieved at a national level — that I had predicted months ago, much to some people’s amusement — proves that there is significant growth potential, even to as much as 30%. But I am not sure that current leaders are able to properly manage this achievement, as well as the likely exceptional economic performance.
Irrespective of what some may claim, Tăriceanu’s decision not to get the party involved in the battle bet­ween PD and PSD is the right thing to do; PNL must retain its inde­pen­dence, as much as possible.
Although 8 per cent behind, PNL may still be acknowledged as the only legitimate representative of the Romanian right wing. PD will likely see accounts being settled between its members, which may seriously impact the party before the general election, so this card must be played very smartly.
But PNL stands to lose because the hostile media, which convey negative signals to the electorate. Certain media outlets’ being hostile to Traian Băsescu does not necessarily mean that they are pro-Liberal. Even their own outlet (i.e. held by a Liberal leader), “Adevărul,” had an unde­ser­vedly base attitude as to Ludovic Orban. And if such a score was achieved in spite of the general hostility, then the actual potential must be a lot higher.
But if it is to succeed, PNL must take steps. It must immediately give up leaders with a negative image (Adomniței, Nicolăescu, David). It must lay more emphasis on simple things, such as riding the bike to the Government head office—there should be a rule, a “Bike Day” at the Government, with all Cabinet members coming to work by bike one day a week. And above all, it must communicate better. They do have plenty to talk about.

By Cristian BANU

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