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June 25, 2022

Always surprising

President Traian Basescu’s every political appearance, either in the mass-media or at some rally where he drops seemingly parenthetic remarks, manages to set in motion chain political reactions and press comments. It is always like that, because the president knows his card game. He always makes sure that at least some of the things he says will awake amazement, surprise, revolt or sarcasm. He makes sometimes shocking statements, while, on other occasions, he shows an apparently inexplicable candidness. He tries to cover the broadest possible range of topics knowing that, among the uninteresting things that he is going to say, there have to be at least a few that will qualify for the attention of interminable televised talk-shows. Behind all that, most often there are political calculations or of other nature, that serve his interests. Even the most benign things he says have the potential of triggering some delayed explosion.

The interview granted by the president to ProTV is no exception from this point of view, with the president insisting to touch upon absolutely everything, from political to economic matters, from PDL’s internal issues to comments on specific cases.

Surprising as always, Traian Basescu made statements that, for some, were reassuring, while, for others, had an incandescent potential. Obviously, space does not allow for a minute analysis of the whole interview, but we should, nevertheless, dwell on some of the assertions that raise question marks.
We do not know exactly how well informed the president is on the domestic situation. Obviously, when saying so, we do not have in mind intelligence reports that are keenly read. At least at a first glance, the perception of the president is rather unclear as long as he claims he has no reason to demand PM Emil Boc’s resignation, because the PM ‘shows willingness to drive reform’ (!). The public’s perception, on the other hand, is that, rather than taking measures fit for a period of crisis, the Boc Government has taken measures of emergency to prevent the country from defaulting. The reform matter is a very complex one and a majority of analysts claim that there hasn’t been any. Moreover, the head of state said the mass-media does not support the reforms of the state in any way. The problem is there are no such reforms and that the biggest resistance to incipient reforms comes from the state itself, the same state that is being led by the Emil Boc Government.

While, for some there is no reform whatsoever, as far as the president is concerned, the reform ‘must go on.’

‘The reform of the state must go on, we have issues of celerity in Parliament because reforming the state needs laws. I am absolutely certain that a salary law will not be adopted by Parliament, because there are always by-ways in which the process can be hindered, therefore I think the Government will probably need to have it adopted by taking responsibility over it, as it is the case with another reform law, the one on education’. Is this the democratic way to adopt two major acts? In other words, as the president does not ‘believe’ that the laws will be adopted by Parliament, the Government must take responsibility and adopt them in that way. Are these really the resorts of Romanian politics, the ones related to the president’s predictions?

The president also has something to say on the system of incentives in the finance apparatus. He even exposes things, such as the one that, when Remes and Vladescu were ministers, the unions in the system were made the proposal of incentives’ being introduced in the wages and that the unions said ‘no, we want to keep the current clientele-based system in place.’ That was a double error, intentional or not. On one hand, if it had been the case, the decision of the workers would have been understandable. Including all income in the base wage actually cuts the after-tax income by over one third – the result of the excessive taxation of individuals. On the other hand, Sunday evening, the trade union leader in the branch denied any such discussions ever taking place, saying that no minister had ever made them such a proposal.
In his interview, Traian Basescu takes things even further than that, saying (now, who could this thing benefit?) that ex-Finance Minister Gheorghe Pogea had concealed the very existence of incentives from PM Boc. ‘I found out about it two months ago and I told the minister of finance to stop making undiscriminating payments within the so-called incentivising scheme and to introduce performance criteria instead. He did not do it,’ Basescu said, adding that PM Emil Boc had only learnt about the incentives’ being paid recently, on the occasion of the Finance Ministry workers’ protest. What is the conclusion? The president had known for two months but he chose not to share it with the prime-minister who (carrying no fault in this case, right?) only found out about it recently… Shouldn’t the president have told Boc about it when he found out himself? Is it a reason for pride that the president knows things two months before the PM?

Traian Basescu did not forget about the politicians in PDL either. He has already decided who is fit to be a presidential candidate and who isn’t, who has a chance to become party president and who has none. Only a few days before the interview, Elena Udrea, the Minister of Regional Development and Tourism, said she did not eye the PM’s office, which tells us that, most likely, she was aware of the president’s view. Although Traian Basescu did praise Udrea live on TV, he nevertheless said he could not think of her as a viable candidate for president or PM because ‘she has not enough life experience’. As for who stands a chance and who doesn’t, the president already has his own standings in place: Vasile Blaga can successfully run for head of PDL, but not for president of the country, the best presidential candidates, as far as he is concerned, being Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi, MEP Cristian Preda or Bucharest District 3 Mayor Liviu Negoita. He mentioned all these names only a few days after Vasile Blaga had reassured everyone that President Traian Basescu does not admix with the Liberal-Democratic Party’s internal affairs at all…

Obviously questionable, all the above statements are actually very much in line with the president’s unmistakable style of making waves, even in still water. He is playing the way he had become used to playing, with the only difference being that his second term is unfolding in an entirely different context than the first one – an unfortunate context for the president, who has more trouble now getting back the assuredness of his golden days. The economic crisis and the social discontentment have caused his popularity rate to drop, and that shows when it comes to self-confidence and public rhetoric. There is one thing about which he may be absolutely right: more severe social unrest foreseen in the coming period. Should we also count on the president’s predictions?

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