On the edge

‘If Antonescu wants to tear down our alliance, let him do it. I don’t want to,’ PM Victor Ponta was saying a few days ago. Looking at his statement, one may notice it is the quintessence of the current political battle within USL. All parties would want to see it terminated, no one wants to light up the fireworks. The one who dares doing it may have to pay a huge political price in view of next year’s European and presidential elections.
Ice-cold relations are obvious between social-democrat Ponta and liberal Crin Antonescu, USL’s co-presidents. Frustrations kept under lid for long time have surfaced recently, stimulated by the so-called ‘black Tuesday’ in parliament, but also fuelled by dissatisfactions on both sides.
There are many voices saying the tensions within USL are mounting rapidly and that a break-up is imminent. Some consider the liberals are getting ready to launch an ultimatum to the social-democrats and warn them they could leave the governance.
Ponta’s PSD has constantly tried to get prepared for such a move, enlisting constantly MPs defecting from other parliamentary parties, mainly from PPDD. However, in order to reach a parliamentary majority it needs more than its ally UNPR and the representatives of ethnic minorities. UDMR is keen to join the governance, but its demands may not be to PSD’s liking in many ways. That is why the social-democrats are however reluctant to cut the knot for good, while waiting for PNL to take the responsibility.
During Tuesday’s ceremonies at Cotroceni Palace, Ponta and Antonescu ignored each other. Their retorts lately have been tough enough to freeze the dialogue, both of them calling the other a liar. Antonescu is playing the part of the determined politician, telling the media to get used with separate appearances of him and Ponta. On PSD’s side, Lower House Speaker Valeriu Zgonea is trying to mend things a little bit, saying divergences should be discussed within USL.
The last drop seems to have been Tuesday’s vote in parliament for the chief of the public television. Rares Bogdan, supported by the liberals, did not receive the go-ahead due to the lack of quorum, as social-democrat MPs did not attend the session. It was an obvious PSD ‘sabotage’ against their political allies PNL. In a move destined to assure the social-democrats’ victory, the government approved an emergency ordinance regarding the public television, reading the interim head of TVR could be approved by the standing bureaus of the two chambers, instead of the nod coming from parliament’s plenum. This means PSD’s candidate Valentin Nicolau, former director-general of TVR, is as good as the new TVR head. It looks like the social-democrats just couldn’t restraint themselves. Year 2014 is of utmost importance mainly due to the presidential elections. The lessons learned during the presidency of Traian Basescu were tough and PSD knows TVR is crucial during electoral campaigns.
Only dreamers still believe in the political independence of the public television, a target never reached completely during the 24 years since the 1989 revolution. Runner Rares Bogdan vowed to do everything for an independent television, but that seems not to be enough for the social-democrats. ‘I believe the PNL candidate’s statements have led to the lack of quorum in parliament, for sure,’ PM Ponta said.
The TVR issue was the last straw. But there are lots of problems inside USL, from governance errors to the so-called ‘black Tuesday’, to the position in cases of shale gas or Rosia Montana exploitation, the amnesty and pardoning draft law, to the approach for European elections next spring, to new taxes and excises, to the approach of justice issues and, the last one, the position regarding the Village Museum in Bucharest.
‘If such decisions continue, I’m afraid YES’ liberal Antonescu said on Monday, referring to the perspective that USL breaks-up until the end of the year. ‘There are issues that mounted in time, but I believe the main problem is that for too long the sirens have whistled from Cotroceni,’ social-democrat Ponta said on the other hand, suggesting certain relations between President Traian Basescu and liberal leader Crin Antonescu.
The USL is on the edge. Only panic would make it work for some time. Liberals’ panic. Sources say there are liberal minister in the Ponta cabinet ready to quit PNL for PSD in order to keep their jobs. It may be the same in state institutions where the management is divided between social-democrats and liberals. In the territory, things may be even worse, as usually mayors are the most vulnerable when it comes to political pressure, elections and funding. On the other hand Crin Antonescu is very well aware his chances to get the presidential seat next year will become lower and that even an inside PNL revolt is possible once the liberals leave or are ousted from USL.
‘We need to make a decision because the consequences for next year are huge. There’s no more reasonable playing. Things got radicalized. Basescu and his people assumed the fight to defend justice, while PSD is standing across and is speaking on our behalf. For PNL it is a difficult situation, we have to have a position allowing us to get out of this standoff. We have to re-position ourselves,’ Antonescu said, expressing his and his party’s concerns.
Viewing themselves as the biggest party in Romania, social-democrats play the game their own way. Senator Mircea Geoana announced yesterday common lists PSD-PNL for European elections next spring are out of the question, giving another reason for discontentment in the liberal camp. TVR, amnesty, the modification to the criminal code – all of them have been tackled according to the PSD wishes and it seems the time has come to sort things out: PNL should either accept their allies’ sovereignty, or leave for shinier horizons.
Analysts say a decisive role in PSD’s tougher stance comes from the so-called social-democrat local barons. They need a presidential runner of their own, they need to promote the laws they want and have their own approaches to politics in the next years. The social-democrats have proven more often than not a difficult partner, dilly-dallying about snap decisions and hard to convince when it comes to parliamentary deeds. They want Victor Ponta to run for president, a victory that would give them the entire power of decision in the political life. Victor Ponta, according to the polls, tops the electorate’s preferences with more than 20 per cent, while Crin Antonescu is lagging behind with some 16 per cent. Other polls reveal more than 40 per cent of Romanians long for the ‘better times’ during the Ceausescu’s era. More or less, these are the same that would vote for PSD and its presidential candidate in hope for state support.
USL was made up to fight President Traian Basescu. And to promote Ponta as prime minister and Antonescu as president. Ever since Antonescu noticed that ‘influential politicians and people from the intelligence services are making pressures for Ponta running to the presidency’ the ratio between USL’s parties has been crumbling. USL failed in its essence and its leaders have handed lots of reasons to Traian Basescu, on a golden plate, to counterattack. Handling the political fight and the 2014 elections proves hard enough both for PSD and for PNL. It remains to be seen what will prevail: the hatred against Traian Basescu that unites USL leaders, or the interests related to 2014 elections and everything that comes from that?

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