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No one can jump over his own shadow, Băsescu included

Cristian BANU

Traian Băsescu has been trying to change for a while. The failure in the local election, for which he was (rather unfairly) blamed, made him adopt the wrong strategy. For him, I don’t think change is a solution—not even a sincere change, which is rather unlikely. A parallel with Ion Iliescu may help clarify this assumption.

Apparently, Ion Iliescu hasn’t changed since 1990. But in actual fact, there is a huge difference between today’s Iliescu and the man who called the miners to tear down not so much the “University Square,” but the offices of opposition parties and of independent news­pa­pers. Ion Iliescu changed very slowly, alongside his electorate.
In contrast, Traian Băsescu’s chan­ging “overnight” was not accompanied by a change of his electorate. Between 2004 and 2008, Romania has grown and changed a lot, and voters have other priorities today. But the political class remained within a closed circle, doing politics for the sake of politics. And since they ignore the electorate, the electorate has started to ignore them. The target of political parties thus shrank to their own fans and a relatively small number of onlookers.
Traian Băsescu’s mistake is that … he doesn’t understand what he did wrong. It is not his attitude or rhetoric that he must change. Most of his voters voted for him precisely because he is “unruly,” popular and atypical. His very rudeness has its fans. It is not by changing his “form” that Traian Bă­sescu can win back the voters he has lost, because, although over-publici­sed, it was not the form that drove them away.

The failures of Traian Băsescu’s politics

When you ask for a reform of the political class, but your offer boils down to has-beens like Stolojan, to “dad’s girl,” Onaca, Mitică Dragomir or Mona Muscă and other political migrants, when you encourage servility and like being sucked up to, when the fight against corruption means counting Năs­tase’s double-glazed windows, and anti-corruption indictments are so po­orly drawn up that even a law school freshman can overrule them, it’s only natural for the sham to be exposed for what it is. And the solution is not to turn into a “nice guy,” but to show some re­sults!
A “nice” Traian Băsescu is no lon­ger interesting, and without the “mad­ness” and “scandal,” his core elec­torate will change preferences, without the “makeover” winning him any new voters instead. Obviously, judging by the electoral scores of the other two “madmen,” Vadim Tudor and Gigi Be­cali, one might conclude that the time of madness in politics has gone. But “reinventing oneself” is not a solution. If it is to succeed, it needs results. And results are not enough to guarantee suc­cess. In 2004, Traian Băsescu was the future, the hope... Today he is the past and disenchantment.

A strategic error

In political terms, although he still has a major institutional role to play – nominating the prime minister after the general election – I believe Traian Băsescu has used up his potential and stan­ds no chance to be re-elected. Indeed, the polarisation for or against him has lost its strength, and local elections have proved that simply standing up for or against the Presi­dent is no longer enough, when a party lacks a sound offer. The President should turn from “big daddy” to “pri­mus inter pares,” which is rather hard to do when his key electorate wants him as a “big daddy.” The very fact that Traian Băsescu is only left with institu­tional tools to influence the political arena substantially reduces his room for manoeuvre, since he is not “cut out” to institutional activity. Moreover, through the right measures, the institutional advantage may be coun­tered by administrative means, which his opponents have proved to master.
On the other hand, taking debates to a political level didn’t work in the local elections. In Bucharest, Blaga would have stood a chance against Oprescu, had he kept debates in the institutional field. But when political topics were brought up, he couldn’t handle Oprescu.
For this autumn’s general election, the President seems to be preparing political topics again, and political topics are bound to be the same: corruption, Năstase, the 322. Tăriceanu on the other hand has put on his rubber boots and travels around the country, just as Traian Băsescu did four years ago. “Listen, brother, let me see the blueprint for this work” is a lot more efficient than the never-ending dispute over Năstase’s windows, particularly since this is something new for Tăriceanu.
Ion Iliescu and Traian Băsescu
Traian Băsescu and Ion Iliescu have a lot in common. In terms of “political biology,” they are both what we could define as “the first generation of post-communist leaders,” in spite of the significant age difference between them. They have both ended up ill-equipped for a political game which has been transferred from the realm of emotions to the realm of pragmatism. Both have kept a firm hold on their respective parties, but failed to provide efficient political management and any vision other than the military/com­mu­nist apparatchik paternalism.
Although closer to him in terms of age, Călin Popescu Tăriceanu and Mircea Geoană or indeed Adrian Năs­tase are members of another gene­ration, even though the latter is very similar to Ion Iliescu in all respects. None of them mattered in the political game, but all of them have performed well in administrative terms. Adrian Năstase and Călin Popescu Tăriceanu did so both as prime ministers (economic growth, administrative efficiency) and as party managers. Mircea Geoană, although everybody’s favourite laughing stock, kept PSD at a score above expectations; he managed to place the party on an upward trend after the 2004-2005 media campaign against it and to preserve the unity of the Social Democratic federation (because today’s PSD is no longer a party, but rather a federation of groups).

Traian Băsescu’s options

The President and his party are in for problems: PD is isolated in the political arena and doesn’t seem able to do better that 25%, although polls continue to see it at about 40%. In practical terms, the President can’t nominate a minority government, which would entail endless scandals and would make his re-election highly unlikely, with the next president free to nominate a new government; no­minating a PNL-PSD cabinet would also make his re-election unlikely, because he has already proved that he cannot work with a government of another political complexion, on the one hand, and that he can’t be trusted to act “responsibly” on the other hand. The “slip of tongue” targeting the Liberal Minister Cristian David was yet another case in point.
Nor is the option of resigning and “running” for premiership any more feasible; in this case, the decision on the new premier would rest with Nicolae Văcăroiu, who will probably nominate someone else as premier.
And since the cooperation with PSD is out of the question, Traian Băsescu only has one option left: an alliance with PNL and the nomination of Călin Popescu Tăriceanu as prime minister, with the party ratio in the new government to be calculated against the election score (1:1, most likely).
I believe politician Traian Băsescu has no other choice than to do what Ion Iliescu has done: accept a symbolic position in the party. He is vital to PD, there is no doubt about it, but at present I think he is a burden rather than a solution. The Democrats remain the only party controlled by a leader, the only party yet to reform itself. The shift of the battle into the institutional-administrative realm requires a new type of leader for the Democrats, instead of merely rehashing Traian Băsescu.

By Cristian BANU
Publicat în : English  de la numărul 59

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