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“Partnership for Romania“ generates administrative chaos

Cristian BANU

Traian Băsescu și Emil BocThe first month of the year ended, and Romania didn’t have a public budget law. Although it has the largest parliamentary support of all post-1989 governments, the “Partnership for Romania” only generates administrative chaos. There is no telling which of the publicly announced anti-crisis measures will be actually implemented; there’s no telling whether Romania will borrow money from the IMF, EU, EBRD or the financial market. All the measures announced by the Boc Government, from the ban on pensioners’ returning on the payroll of public institutions to the “freezing” of salaries in the public sector, tend to be perceived as ridiculous. Meanwhile, the national currency dives and the economy is brought to a halt, yet no one in the administration can be bothered with such details.

The question then is, why we needed a broad coalition go­ver­nment in the first place —perhaps a minority government would have done just as well. But as we see, the combined human resources of both parties are not enough to supply the skilled people needed for the job —the old problem of all Romanian politi­cal parties — so one party alone would have faced an even more serious shortage. What we see these days is a clear indication of the severe limita­tions of the Romanian political class, which is hardly equipped to manage a normal political context, and even less so a crisis. The failure — I believe we can already talk about failure — is validated by the President himself, as he is beginning to take a distance from the government that he has created and that has been negotiated for the past two years, as we have recently learned. It was only the opposition of Ion Iliescu, Adrian Năstase and a hand­ful of their supporters, that pre­vented such a government from taking power back then.
But then again, anyone finds it hard to take Traian Băsescu’s “distance” seriously, given that the Prime Minister is known as a man who won’t even go to the loo without Traian Băsescu’s per­mission. While so far he was com­mu­ting between Cluj and Bucharest, now he is commuting between Victoria Palace and Cotroceni; indeed, we may say he spends more time in Cotroceni than he does in Victoria.
Although a misconception, the pu­blic perceives the Government as headed by Traian Băsescu, and there’s no point in blaming Emil Boc for something that the poor fellow has nothing to do with. But the President’s problem is that, although the Govern­ment is “his doing,” he simply can’t control it. The Democratic Party wing which opposes the President has impo­sed its own people and will not coope­rate, and controlling the PSD is an illusion that, for some mysterious rea­son, Traian Basescu still takes for granted, in spite of his unrivalled political skills. The PSD is far from the mono­lith that Ion Iliescu headed in the ‘90s. Today, it is a federation of inte­rests and gangs. The very term “fede­ration” is an overstatement, as it re­quires coordination for common goals. But there are no common goals or interests in the PSD, except perhaps for that of getting in power (although there is a wing that would have preferred staying in the opposition).
Although Traian Băsescu doesn’t strike us as a man who keeps his promises, his announcement that he might not run for a second presidential term is worth considering. In a previous story, I was saying that the next presidential campaign will be held in entirely diffe­rent circumstances. By that time, parties will have taken a firm grip of power at a local, central and European level, so the ROI of a new campaign would be hardly encouraging, as presidents have been proved to have little leverage. As we have seen, the most active of the presidents failed to overthrow a hostile government and was forced to appoint a government which only appears to work in his favour and whose bills he will be forced to pay nonetheless. Therefore, candi­dates will be forced to beg for parties’ support in the campaign. PSD is beyond Traian Băsescu’s control and has no interest in backing him, PD is only partly controlled and anyway, its mobili­sation capacity is questionable under these circumstances. If we add the crisis and the poor performance of a government that he doesn’t control, Traian Băsescu has slim chances to win a fresh mandate. His announ­ce­ment that he might not run again is an attempt to put some pressure on PD, which in case a Social Democratic president gets elected, risks being thrown out of the government.
For the time being, the non-can­didacy scenario is just another sce­na­rio. It may come true, if opinion polls confirm the fall in the President’s and Democrats’ popularity, because ano­ther feature that defines Traian Bă­sescu is fear. The “I-will-resign-in-five-seconds” episode proved that Traian Băsescu is by no means irresponsible, and that he never engages in battles that he cannot win. If he doesn’t run after all, it will be not because he takes responsibility for his failure, but be­cause he tries to avoid the humi­liation of not being elected. If he is to avoid becoming a loser, like Emil Constan­ti­nescu whom he kept scoffing at, Băsescu will have to make this deci­sion before everyone realises that he stands no chance to win.
Unfortunately, the Government will have to carry on its current high-wire dance until the presidential election, which means what we’ve seen so far will go on for another nine months. Hopefully, they will get the budget bill passed in the meantime. For the Democrats, it doesn’t get any worse. If they withdraw from the government, they will be accused of “weakness,“ “fear of difficulties,“ “incapacity to take responsibility“ (although I doubt any­one can persuade the Democrats to leave power once again). If they stay, they will gradually lose their electoral support. I don’t see a bright future for the Democratic Party. Their taking po­wer at a time of crisis, the admi­nistrative blunders, their failing voters’ expectations, and Traian Băsescu’s dwindling influence — all these usher in a significant decrease of the Demo­crats’ electoral rates. In spite of Boc’s ballet from Cotroceni to Kiseleff and back, I’m afraid there are slim chances for governmental performance, at least one comparable to that of the Tări­cea­nu Government. Worth mentioning is also the questionable decision to appoint Adriean Videanu (whom Bu­cha­resters hate) as Economy Minister, in charge with handling the crisis alongside another amateur.
Traian Băsescu’s withdrawal might mean a PNTCD-style collapse for the Democrats, with Traian Băsescu as Emil “Crushed-by-the-system” Constan­tinescu, with Emil Boc as Victor Ciorbea and with Mircea Geoană as... Traian Băsescu.
PSD benefits from ministries with high image-related potential and they may dodge responsibility for the crisis, passing it onto the Democrats. Their populism can hardly be rivalled—but unfortunately, in times of crisis popu­lism works wonders for parties. If they hang on to the Cuza model, as Balzac does, they can’t lose. Nicolăescu had tried something like that, too, but he bordered on the ridiculous. On top of it, the Social Democrats go as far as to play the victims, complaining that the Democrats have the most “lucrative” ministries.
"MirceaThe fact is that the “Dummy” outsmarted the “Player“ and he stands 95% chances to be the next President of Romania. I doubt that So­rin Oprescu will enter the race, althou­gh Ion Iliescu and Adrian Năstase probably pressure him and the Liberals woo him as well. Oprescu’s problem is that neither the Iliescu wing, nor the Liberals have the resources to carry a nation-wide campaign: the support of local barons is vital in this case. Oprescu would lose Bucharest, and he will only be able to carry few votes elsewhere in the country, as he is mostly known in Bucharest. Moreover, the City Hall gives him a lot more than the Presidency could.
PNL is hardly heard at this time, which is not that bad as a strategy. It is better for them to wait until the new ministers rub out the memory of Nicolăescu, Chiuariu, Adomniței or Cioroianu and, of course, of the unpa­ra­lleled Vosganian, who will probably be remembered for the most disas­trous budget execution, in 2008. But in order to grow, the Liberals need a strategy, and for the time being they don’t seem to have one. What Crin Antonescu and Ludovic Orban do, is not serious action. The former is only a bystander who has never been in the game, while the latter lacks stature and dependability. A replacement for Călin Popescu Tăriceanu must be looked for somewhere else, not in these two. Strategically speaking, Tăriceanu should be replaced, but none of these two is a solution. Unfortunately, Crin Antonescu being the best speaker in Parliament does not make up for his ability to “duck” when it comes to action, although voters tend to like him. Ludovic Orban, on the other hand, has a disastrous image outside the party, which rules out this choice. A solution for PNL should come from the new generation of politicians, but none of them seems up to it. Although, to be honest, PNL is the party that brought the largest number of new people into politicts over the past four years.
A difficult year lies ahead, with gro­wing social pressure. With a political class that lacks concrete solutions, this pressure may even take violent forms, particularly since domestic trade unions have run out of credibility and are unable to coordinate social movements into actual gains. Without such coordination, escalation risks are significant. And since the economic ministries are in the Democrats’ han­ds, there’s no question about who will foot the bill. PSD might even encourage such movements, in order to pressure their partners, although this would be rather risky.
Starting next week, as business operators find out that they have nothing to expect from the State, they will start looking for solutions on their own, and the economy will finally start spinning. A lot depends on how much of the Q4 taxes have been collected to the budget (which is probably one of the main reasons for delaying the budget endorsement). Reasonable collection will give a breather to the economy and the national currency. Conversely, low collection will put the government under a lot of pressure, and the Victor Ciorbea/PNȚCD sce­nario will be reiterated, particularly with the IMF back in the game, with similar results (there were 3 years of recession then).
By Cristian BANU

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