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September 29, 2020
EDITORIAL

A chronic weakness

Mircea Geoana had a hard time as PSD leader. These were not just the years of a frustrating opposition, of an anguish reassessment, of endless conflicts and a terrible pressure from outside. The Nastase experiment of a united and reformed left, more credible and even attractive, had failed. With electoral victory within reach, the party loses everything in 2004 because of a presidential candidate too ‘arrogant’ to please the voters. When he returned to take the reins of the party, Ion Iliescu was still able to inspire a respectful fear. The former “heavyweight” ministers of the Nastase Cabinet were vying for the party inheritance, with inherent centrifugal tendencies. Against this background, an unfortunate candidate, who had already lost the race for Bucharest mayor and the position of prime minister, was bold enough to challenge Ion Iliescu, building on the increasing opposition against the ‘moral leader’ of those years, promising a reform and making a real ‘slalom’ between the party ‘barons,’ whom he lets destroy each other.


He endures President Basescu’s fierce attack against all parties, except his own. He has to initiate a tacit alliance with the minority Liberal cabinet, then a ruling alliance with the ‘presidential’ party. As his mandate was drawing to an end, he suffers a narrow defeat to the far more skillful Basescu. Mircea Geoana was unable to be an authoritarian party leader, especially in a party used to strong-hand leaders – no matter if they were subtle, like Ion Iliescu, or plainly authoritarian, like Adrian Nastase. He was unable to give credibility to a party always associated with big corruption. He was not efficient in restoring the lost identity of a party his predecessor had planned to turn into the exponent of the Labour-inspired ‘Third Way.’ He did not know how to build himself a faithful team, with pertinent options. He did not find some ‘spin doctors’ to the extent of his ambitions. Mircea Geoana only took profit from conjectures that made his rivals vulnerable. One by one, he got rid of Ion Iliescu, Adrian Nastase, Ioan Rus, Miron Mitrea, Gabriel Oprea etc. Too versatile, and famous for his blunders, he was unable to make himself either appreciated or feared.


Victor Ponta is an unexpectedly young leader for a party with so many old “heavyweights.” He owes his political career to a premier willing to build a faithful team. He took over the party’s youth organisation, without noteworthy results in promoting a young generation of politicians, though his name was associated with the PSD youth, for some time. When the party was shaken by fratricide conflicts, he was wise enough to take some distance. His marriage with the daughter of an important leader of PSD implicitly increased his influence, very useful in the decisive battle. Alternating Che Guevara T-shirts with the smart suits of a minister and negotiator, he built himself the image of a relaxed leader, less interested by intrigues or wealth, who rather wishes to have a respectable career of young and popular politician.


It is natural for Mircea Geoana to find his own failure hard to swallow and to try rebuilding a political tribune in the party. The same, it is natural – and also a wise move – for Victor Ponta to try gaining a real authority, so he must not repay many outstanding debts later. His acid retorts are already well known in a party where cynical arrogance is not just an exception.


But the real stake of the conflict between the two politicians is completely different. The new party leader wishes to change the image of the party and knows how hard this will be. He needs it, if he wants to move away from the past, and find scapegoats. Mircea Geoana perfectly suits this plan. Ponta accused him of embezzling funds, being incompetent and lacking authority. These may be legitimate accusations, but belittling him and blaming the sad years of a ‘glorious’ party on his leadership is rude and a sign of political immaturity. All the successful ‘reformers’ started by taking wise measures of association, rather than just voicing a violent criticism. Delimitations should be done covertly, because the party suffers from a long weakness, rather than centrifugal forces. One does not ‘strengthen’ one’s muscles by choosing weak partners. Mircea Geoana is ‘weak,’ but precisely because of this, a violent (and unfair) attack against him is inappropriate.


PSD is still in crisis, despite the popularity increase, and the solution is different than cleaning its own backyard. Victor Ponta does not have opponents, but his real problem is his team, not his adversaries within the party. The opportunists who hurry to praise the new master will not help Ponta too much in ‘reforming’ the party.

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