Popularity ratings fluctuations

Popularity ratings are fluctuating once again. After two years in power, the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL) has lost electoral credibility. The explanations are manifold. First and foremost, at stake is a premier who failed to prove convincing. The comparison with his predecessor cannot be avoided. Calin Popescu Tariceanu survived fierce Traian Basescu fire, while Emil Boc benefited from the president’s staunch support, even when in danger of being dismissed by a non-confidence motion.

The economic growth during the former PM is now followed by drastic recession during the latter.

The social protection measures during the Liberal government, under pressure from the tacit Social Democratic Party (PSD) ally, are now replaced by some original austerity measures. The once-legislative stability, a product of circumstantial, yet lasting, solidarity with the Social-Democrats, is now constantly threatened by the randy votes of potential ‘traitors’. Secondly, the focus is on a party that failed to convince. President Basescu, the almost exclusive creator of the current formula, was at pains to set up a party commensurate with his ambitions.

At first, he ran it with an iron hand, then, he cultivated a quasi-absolute dependency on his personal reputation. He moved it to a different ideological camp, crossbred it with a petty party he himself created by stimulating a Liberal dissidence, he tried to pull an entire political class down in order to build himself a favourable passageway.

However, his politicians did not live up to this grandiose project. A few rather outstanding leaders gave up the ambitions of a future blocked by the jealousy of the big boss and contended themselves with the benefits of heading some major ministries.. Promises lacked consistency and the lack of strategy left the disappointing taste of improvisation.

A third explanation derives from the first two. The party’s implicit isolation eroded voter trust in a coherent and viable project. The PDL no longer has a party to cooperate with and this itself disqualifies it. It aimed to be a large party able to rule by itself, yet it failed. It is the Social-Democrats who are now rising on the ruins of PDL’s political projects. Their virtual success, so far magnified only by opinion polls, now relies on a single inspired ‘move’: a very young party president. The focus is on renewed hope in a change compromised by purely circumstantial alliances and giving up on strong identity features. This time, Victor Ponta stakes his bet on going back to the party’s own project, a psychological rather than strategic decision.

Unfortunately, his project does not appear as one that is genuinely reforming. Whether he likes it or not, he follows his former mentor and political godfather Adrian Nastase, who, for the time being at least, becomes the strategist of a new direction. But could the former party head really be a good adviser? As to the tactics of swift coming into power, opinions are split, and unavoidable so. Given voter versatility, the ongoing popularity may very well dwindle by election time. Similar cases have been seen before. The Alliance for Romania (ApR) for example, merged into the National Liberal Party (PNL) for a long time now, was once a party credited with big chances to win elections, and its president, Teodor Melescanu, a strong runner for president. However, quite unexpectedly, the party melted into PNL before the elections in 2000. On the other way, the rush to take power at a time of economic and social crisis could prove anti-productive. For now, it is circumstances and not strategic offers that are at stake. What Adrian Nastase could do in this respect?

His political project has failed. The type of governance he proposed was politicking engulfing all the societal levers, which unavoidably led to flourishing corruption, influence peddling and implicit large-scale opportunism. Also, the big bid at window-addressing via massive image campaigns, some of them, like the creative Ministry of Public Information, a first in the Romanian public landscape, proved being mere… window-dressing. His penchant for revenge, after years of humiliations, will mark him a great deal more than his ambition for strategic re-conversion, so that the hidden goal of returning to a top political position should not be ruled out by any means.

With a PDL running adrift and a PSD on hasty rise, the PNL could prove a decisive factor in the balance of the future power. The key of future success lies in the hands of that party able to set up the terms suitable for an alliance with the Liberals. And its vehicle appears handy: the presidential ambitions of Crin Antonescu. After years of excessive presidential authority, open and tough conflict with parliament and the premier, the refusal to accept nominations for premiership, a rhetoric aimed at de-legitimising the political class and strong populism, the shift is likely to government and premier, as during the time of governments headed by Adrian Nastase and Calin Popescu Tariceanu. Mainly that the Emil Boc governments have led to the wish for firmer and more creative leadership.

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