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Romania’s Royal House now gambling its historical role

Cristian BANU

ASR Principele Radu de RomâniaOne of the hardest “what if’s” in our recent history is “What if King Michael had been younger, or at least had a male heir?” Monarchy restoration chances are next to null, and they wouldn’t have been influenced significantly, regardless of how charismatic the King and his prospective heir had been. In this respect, I think a more adequate question is, “Is the Royal House permitted to get involved in politics?”

When reading the com­men­ts — some of them critical, some others violent alto­gether — one is tempted to think the answer is “No,” the King should have stayed in history books and mind his estate and old age. I find it odd that H.M. King Michael is subject to the same “interpretation pattern” as Ma­rian Vanghelie or Traian Băsescu is. “He’s after something”. “He has a hid­den agenda”. “He’s X’s man.” The very man, who has so far only proven ele­gan­ce, uprightness, and a … royal dis­tan­ce from the pettiness of Romanian politics, is denied, out of hand, the right to be truly concerned with the degradation and destitution of His people. Ironically, this comes from self-professed monarchists. Prince Radu Duda’s candidacy is, I be­lie­ve, not “again­st” someone, but ra­ther tar­gets the neutral electorate, those people who have no one left to vote for. At present, only the hardliners of political parties are active, totalling some 30% at the electorate at most. The open support expressed by H.M. King Mi­chael rules out any covert political arrangement.
Another interesting fact revealed by opinion polls is the relatively close score for the runoff of the two can­didates taken into account so far. When Traian Băsescu set out in the 2004 campaign, the difference from Adrian Năstase’s score was a lot larger. Although the wear-out rate is slower at present, some people are fed up with the incumbent president. And this is deepened by his exces­sive media coverage, which facilitates a change -particularly since the performance of his government is pa­thetic and will further deepen his down­ward trend. Indeed, the president still stands at around 40% in approval rates, but this is a percentage out of a rather slim part of the electorate still interested in politics (30%, perhaps 40% at most). This leaves an independent candidate with a huge potential electoral pool to tap into.
There’s no telling how much of this H.R.H. Prince Radu will manage to win over, but he does stand sound chan­ces, both in the rural and in the urban envi­ron­ment, and more importantly, in Traian Băsescu’s own electoral pool. According to some polls, 16% of the people favours monarchy, therefore this is a prospective electoral hardline group for H.R.H. Prince Radu, which is by no means significant. In a possible run­off with Traian Băsescu, he would take over more of the Liberal electorate than Mircea Geoană would. The latter, just like Crin Antonescu, has a major down­side: a limited electoral pool. Their chances to attract the undecided and uninvolved are very slim, which is why I believe H.R.H. Prince Radu stan­ds better chances to make it into the “final” against Traian Băsescu (should he run) or against Mircea Geoană.
Looking back, I think His Majesty’s move has been planned. H.R.H. Prince Radu has long been trained for some­thing like this. His not being entirely “noble” (though I don’t think this was a deliberate choice) makes the idea of his running for president less inappropriate. It may be too soon – hence the large num­ber of negative reactions – but the Royal House of Romania is running out of time. With a return to monarchy out of the question, there is one way for it to get invol­ved in the domestic politics. Buil­ding a political party is a complex en­deavour, and a lot more inappropriate for a royal house. On the other hand, a head of state is closer to the role traditionally played by a monarch. There already is the Bulgarian precedent of a King demo­cratically elected (I know, the context is different, but it is still a precedent).
I have no doubt that H.M. King Mi­chael feels guilty for choosing the exile instead of the martyrdom in 1947, and pushing Prince Radu to the forefront is a form of trying to pay his debt to the nation that he abandoned. The Royal House of Romania is now gambling its historical destiny, which it entrusts to Prince Radu. It may end ridiculously, or it may once again become Romania’s civilising agency, as it was under Carol I. It is a move of the utmost courage, which well deserves our respect.
I believe H.R.H. Prince Radu truly stan­ds a chance; he is by far the best candidate, particularly if the role of the presidential institution is well under­sto­od from now on. By separating the presi­dential from the parliamentary elections, the President’s role in domestic politics is significantly reduced (anyway, Traian Băsescu went a long was to proving that not even a player-president can truly exert power). This enables the presi­den­tial institution to concentrate efforts on representing Romania abroad, given that since Emil Constantinescu’s presi­den­cy our country has played no part in international politics.
The meeting in France is in no way different from the ice-cream offered to Adrian Năstase by Berlusconi or his bei­ng received in the Oval Office. The Fren­ch want to sell us a nuclear power plant, and Traian Băsescu willingly joins the list of Sarko’s eccentricities, next to Ghad­dafi. Five years ago he was thundering against the “payout” given to the French; today, he offers to pay them himself, only to rescue a piece of a disastrous foreign image, particularly since French presi­dents have some experience in washing political corpses (as did de Gaulle for Ceaușescu, or Mitterand for Iliescu).
Surprising as it may seem, H.R.H. Prin­ce Radu’s candidacy helps the Demo­cratic Party, which has got cold feet at the idea that “big daddy” is no longer running. Should Mircea Geoană or Crin Antonescu win the election, this may bring about a shift in the parlia­men­tary majority in favour of PSD-PNL. Should H.R.H. Prince Radu win, any attempt by PSD to change the status-quo becomes risky. Traian Băsescu’s and his party’s only problem is, in this case, the exit strategy. While Traian Băsescu has already announced several times that he might not run again, PD suffers from the lack of a candidate able to at least go through the motions of competition. This, and the fact that it has not yet identified a PD candidate, explain why a decision on Traian Băsescu’s candidacy is yet to be made. If Traian Băsescu really wants to take part in the race, I see no reason why he should defer making this announcement — the surprise would be for him not to run, and if he does the suspense won’t help him. On the con­tra­ry, it would enable some of his suppor­ters to look for a new candidate.
Although his candidacy benefits the Democratic Party and Traian Băsescu, I don’t think H.R.H. Prince Radu is part of a scenario, but rather he was the right man at the right time. Without him, another independent candidate will have certainly emerged (most likely Mugur Isărescu) who would have certainly been the Democrats’ man. I don’t see the Ro­yal House of Romania as part of a sce­nario that includes Traian Băsescu as well. In this respect, a possible scenario – one that has been largely discussed la­tely – points to an agreement between Mircea Geoană and Traian Băsescu on the president-prime minister positions. A form of non-combat is also Crin Anto­nescu’s nomination by PNL. Antonescu is a “weak” candidate, whose 20 years in politics stands out in the number of missed Parliament meetings and in a rather unconvincing performance. In fact, the Liberal Party as a whole seems flooded in hopeless mediocrity. While in the opposition and benefiting from the huge blunders of the ruling coalition, PNL would have been to get fresh impe­tus and to outperform its parliamentary election score. But polls indicate that, on the contrary, the party is going down, to some 13%, an under-achievement that marks the failure of the party’s new leadership.
We are yet to see whether Mircea Geoa­nă’s candidacy is “for real.” In prin­ci­ple, Mircea Geoană would make an honourable president, but he is far from having persuaded the public that he stands on his own feet. And, between a president “guaranteed” by Marian Van­ghe­lie and one backed by H.M. King Michael, I believe there can be no he­sitation …
H.R.H. Prince Radu is the only one who can stand up to Traian Băsescu in the final debates in the runoff, and he may win precisely thanks to the distance in culture and civilisation between the two. (When I think about a possible Geoa­nă-Băsescu or Antonescu-Băsescu deba­te, I can’t stop laughing.) The moral marsh in which the Romanian political class seems to be swimming paves the way for something else. The increasingly violent response to mass media frauds, the ever pettier media coverage, the com­promise of certain intellectuals or the performance of politicians suggest that everything is ready for something else. The current political class has proved its incom­petence for 20 years. There can be no hope for better within it. Long enough they have proved that they don’t know, they don’t have solutions and skills. Naturally, H.R.H. Prince Radu is not the salvation, the hope – these are in ourselves. But he may be a beginning.

By Cristian BANU
Publicat în : English  de la numărul 67


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