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September 16, 2021

A strategic and leadership crisis

Someone will definitely win the next election. However, beyond the play of conjectures, if the state of affairs is not much different from the present one, no party would be truly deserving of trust. The Democrat Liberal Party (PDL) would, obviously, bear the burden of governing at a time of recession. Nevertheless, beyond footing the bill of popular dissatisfaction lies a deadlock in the party’s make-over. First and foremost, the passage (over night) from social democracy to the popular right was not backed by the adoption of a different political culture. There was no talk of study groups proposing, on the basis of the new principles, strategies adapted to the national context. There was no talk of classes which would initiate its own members in the basic doctrine elements of the new direction. There was no talk of political measures motivated, at least to a minimal extent, on ideological grounds. The only “right-wing” element was the anti-communist rhetoric, outdated and without a real object, for that matter. The situation was further complicated by the inflow of “Liberals”, who were not a very good fit in terms of ideological potential. They cannot assert themselves as Liberals, so as not to offer an implicit, unwanted advantage to the former companions they have abandoned, nor did they set out to innovate by ideological grafting. In other words, PDL is a popular party only in theory (with very few exceptions, the individual cases of MPs who genuinely uphold the ideals of the popular right), and any effervescence of ideas is all but inexistent. Ultimately, a crisis as the present one is not only a predicament, but it also serves to expose the narrow-mindedness of a political project which fails to see the whole picture. However, PDL is also faced with another problem. There is a blockage in terms of commanding figures. After using them to secure the loyalty of the party, Traian Basescu is aware of the sharp erosion of their image capital, a heavy burden on the party’s electoral future. Blaga, Videanu, Berceanu ensured, though, functional unity in a party which grew by the repeated exercise of power. Once placed in key Government figures, they strengthened their influence by using state levers. Every one of them could have had a longer future at the helm of the party compared to the much too obedient Emil Boc. In the absence of Basescu, Boc’s political career would be drawing to an end. Yet, who could take their place? The president’s “intellectuals” hold a marginal position in the party, despite being granted certain offices. And, as in the case of other parties, there is no efficient mechanism to promote young people with a genuine political vocation.

The internal problems in PDL are not exclusively theirs. The Social Democrat Party (PSD) is also facing an identity crisis, combined with the shortage of new leaders. However, Social-Democrats’ advantage is the austerity policy which will boost the ranks of left-wing voters. In addition, the attempt to align the party to a reformed social democracy, reminiscent of the British Labour Party’s Third Way policies, cultivated by the former leader Adrian Nastase, failed to leave deep marks in the party, so that they can easily revert to a more left-wing rhetoric. The same indifference to the strategic dimension is taking its toll on PSD. The blockage due to the old guard is only slightly more relaxed, punctured by the internal conflicts in a more heterogeneous party. The election of Victor Ponta as the party president matters, at any rate, in terms of the image projected, sending the signal of an inevitable generation shift. Even if the new leader lacks a team which would fit his youth.

In the National Liberal Party (PNL), the situation seems to be more stable, as the president Crin Antonescu is playing on his good marks in the latest elections to build the party’s political strategy around his future candidacy. Stress will be placed, therefore, on political advertising, rather than on reviving the right-wing message. Ultimately, Crin Antonescu is the eldest leader among those at the helm of major parties. He would probably have no interest to allow an excessive renewing of the upper echelons, at least not by a radical rejuvenation.

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