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April 1, 2023

Looking for a change

Tension between President Traian Basescu and the most faithful government of all his terms seems to be drawing close to a critical point. What becomes apparent from the various statements made is that the head of state is taking a distance from the Boc Cabinet’s current trend. It may be just the kind of intentional rhetoric designed to slow down the brutal fall in the ruling party’s popularity by avoiding political responsibilities.

In order to propose a new option of government and a new face for the party to prevent it from going down in elections, Traian Basescu will need to assume the critical function in relation to his own ‘children’.

On the other hand, given the president’s versatile style, it is quite difficult to anticipate his concrete action, whether or not he will impose government reshuffling, more or less extensive. The issue is different, though: what is the novelty a new government and possibly a new PM could bring this coming autumn? The room for manoeuvre is narrow, meaning that there is not much discretion of choice.

The President’s dilemmas cannot cheat the issue of the PM’s personality. With all the advantages of his absolute loyalty, of being a guarantor of the president’s discretionary censuring of the government and party alike, Emil Boc has worn out his baggage of political capital. He has been ruling during hard times, has had no outstanding political initiatives, has failed to impress with features to the public’s liking.

The other leaders of the main ruling party are also eroded, and the president himself plays a part in the story, just by throwing them into electoral wars where he knew they would not stand a chance (Blaga, Videanu). On the other hand, a younger leader would not have the required authority to cope with versed and much more influential ministers. The option of having an independent prime-minister is just as debatable, for the simple reason that it would make the already open electoral game even more convoluted than it already is. To explore other variant the president would agree to and involving a shift of parliamentary majority would be an inopportune thing to do. Traian Basescu cannot accept to bring former enemies to power. That would be a gesture of humiliating political decadence. What we will most likely have is reshuffling, in other words a new Boc Cabinet. But where are they going to take the holders of the most prominent portfolios?

In crisis situations, with no true alternative solutions, the only chance is the old ‘divide et impera’. Traian Basescu’s chance to perpetuate his discretionary power is Victor Ponta’s lack of vision and premature ambitions. The new leader of the Left wants to make the most of the opportunity of a period marked by poverty and austerity. Poverty is regularly the major ally of the political Left with its promises of wealth re-distribution and social welfare. Ponta also has the disadvantage of not truly mastering a still centrifugal party, so he is searching for an enough generous target to attract as many colleagues as he can into the delusion of plenary power. The Social-Democrats’ chief is maintaining, still implicitly, the delusion of a large-scale victory in the next election. This is why he jestfully discards the possibility of an alliance with the Liberals, as well as the option of snap election. In his case, that is also the symptom of political immaturity, for the game of electoral results is sure to contradict his current optimism, at least in part. One has to remember that, however enraged the voters will be, many who will be letting go of the Liberal-Democrats will go to the Right and not to the Left.

As long as there is no agreement in place between the Liberals and the Social-Democrats, Traian Basescu is free to manoeuvre much more tranquilly. What’s important is for him to be able to identify the right safety valve for the augmenting public unrest. He can always sacrifice Emil Boc if he needs to. The problem is how to restore the party’s credibility without a convincing government. If Boc, as well as the party ‘heavy duty’ figures Blaga, Videanu and Berceanu are set aside, a void of power will be created. Not having an alternative set of leaders now turns out to be quite a serious shortcoming. The most difficult part for Traian Basescu is not to appear as a simple talker who criticizes without doing anything. His only authority left is the one coming from a certain degree of popularity that is anyway bigger than the one of a party in slight disarray. He can come up with a typical solution which, while not resolving much, would nevertheless not pass unnoticed. The president has the pleasure of being the one to set the rules of the game. And he can continue to do that up until the next election.

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