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October 28, 2021

Battle for PDL fought by leaps and bounds

PDL has set itself up for an anti-corruption fighter, reform artisan and providential righter of wrongs in Romanian politics. After several years of governance alongside the Liberals, PSD (its deadly enemy, as a matter of fact), UDMR and UNPR (a phantom party made up of other parties’ deserters), almost all its self-assumed qualities have gone up in smoke. Any strengths regarding the living standard collapsed under the burden of the economic crisis and promises such as 50 per cent pay rise for teachers (see the 2008 election campaign) soon turned into the opposite: 25 per cent wage cuts, lay-offs and slumping living standard.

Situation is also critical from a legal point of view. The Superior Council of Magistracy had operated illegally until not long ago, with only eight of its members receiving lawful vetting.

The word goes that the European Commission will probably issue the most critical country report ever received by Romania. The judicial situation is not any better than it was years ago, with court proceedings extending indefinitely. At a European level, Romania has a huge backlog of damages it has to pay following ECHR rulings. The big ‘sharks’ mentioned in the recent years are not too eager to go behind bars, while political fight sharpens around politicians accused of corruption. The Ridzi and Pasat cases widely covered by this publication are well-known and have demonstrated to most of us that the Democrat-Liberals are as sympathetic of their corrupt fellows as the Social-Democrats when they were in power. Apart from that, echoes abroad have obviously been negative, in a context where the accession to the Schengen Area was front page material for newspapers for weeks in a row. Those who were pleading for a postponement of Romania and Bulgaria’s accession received an unexpected support from the above-mentioned affairs, combined with the cascading arrests in the Romanian customs system.

In the context, the fight for the leadership of the main ruling party becomes acerb ahead of the congress called to decide the leader this spring. Stakeholders’ groups, with supporters and campaigners are being set up, and former PDL leader, currently president of the country, Traian Basescu, seems to have already picked his favourites. One of them is Bucharest District 3 mayor Liviu Negoita. However, knowing that the chips are not down yet, Traian Basescu is critical of either his former party as a whole (‘I no longer have any expectations of PDL’ – he was saying after the Democrat-Liberals vote on the Pasat case) or of Vasile Blaga, or of other leaders such as Adriean Videanu and Radu Berceanu. And yet, when the party had been accused of corruption over the customs bribery case, the same Traian Basescu, live on television took up the cudgels for PDL and lashed at its political opponents.

It therefore seems that, in the case of both the Government and PDL, the president is trying to play an important part. He appears very committed to the future of the party. These last few days we have witnessed an avalanche of news fed by undisclosed sources suggesting the president’s intentions as to PDL and the Government’s leadership, simultaneously with the serial talks he has been holding with representatives of the party. While only a month ago Traian Basescu was saying a technocrat was not a desirable option for a PM, he has been extensively tackling the possibility of appointing an independent prime-minister, option that has been rejected for the moment by PDL. Several names have been brought up in that respect. Although it is against the Constitution, Traian Basescu is becoming increasingly involved in the affairs of the party that supported his candidacy – we are not going to insist anymore on this subject everybody has apparently become used to.

Seeing that PDL is losing interest in him, knowing that this is his last term in office as president, Traian Basescu is very determined to shuffle the cards. The idea of separating the positions of PM and party president serves him wonderfully, because, if he wants to keep his influence up, someone like Vasile Blaga is not desirable at the helm of PDL. For that reason, the ideal situation for him would be Emil Boc as president of PDL and a PM that should be someone either independent, or submissive to Boc, hence to Cotroceni. With Boc – obedient and willing to do fulfil he president’s wishes – running the party, personalities like Elena Udrea, Monica Macovei, Sever Voinescu, or Traian Ungureanu (the new guard as Traian Basescu calls them) could easily find a place in the PDL leadership, while trying to change its image. As a matter of fact, this is the key to the matter. Tuesday night, the president was stating that he wanted confidence in the Government to be restored. But, as we have seen already, this Government simply cannot rehabilitate itself in the eyes of the voters in its current formula. Its credibility, like PDL’s, is slowly but surely dropping to zero. As a result, the president would like to marginalise the ‘heavyweights’ in the party (Blaga, Berceanu, Videanu) and bring to the fore those seen by the general public as reformists.

It may work out or may not. An interesting thing is a point writer Mircea Cartarescu – a known supporter of PDL and President Basescu – was making not long ago. He was stating that nothing could make him vote again for a party that had turned out to be just like the rest of the parties and that perhaps a new party, made up of Monica Macovei and the other ‘new’ people could cause him to go to the polls. Hence ‘plan B’ of the president: carve out the ‘reformist’ wing, the one that may be able to efface the current lack of credibility. Although in his recent interview with ‘Romania Libera’ daily Traian Basescu was denying such likelihood (‘the party is not going to split’ not only because the people in PDL are not going to do that, but also because the first past the pole voting system no longer allows any new parties to be set up: it takes robust infrastructure and no new party can develop that so quickly), the option is not entirely excluded should the political games already started not unfold to his liking. It could explain the president’s blunt sureness that PSD and PNL would stay in the opposition until 2016.

The question is why is this idea of reforming the ruling party being brought up now? Why all this rush to ‘rehabilitate’ the Government and PDL? The answer may be the upcoming PDL congress that will decide the future party head in May. In the meanwhile, Traian Basescu most certainly wants to be sure he can count on someone safe for president – Emil Boc, someone who knows well the party and the network of interests tying the branches to the centre, someone fit to withstand Vasile Blaga should he run (and he probably will) for president in the PDL internal election.

As for the bettering the public can expect…nothing new under the sun. As the president was telling us Tuesday night, no important decisions will be made before the congress of PDL’s ally in the ruling coalition, UDMR. Afterwards, we shall probably have to wait for the PDL congress in May-June for any new hopes, to quote a trade union leader. So on and so forth. This is probably what the president also wants – that hope never dies.

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