President Traian Basescu has pulled another bluff. A few months ago, he produced a rumour suggesting a top-level reshuffle, advancing the hypothesis of an independent prime-minister. Although he immediately went back on the matter to express his support for the continuation of Emil Boc’s career at the top of the party, to the public it appeared that the man who had pushed the Cluj politician to the summit of major politics was taking a step back. Vasile Blaga submitted his candidacy in that slightly confusing context. He was immediately seen as a possible party ‘reformist’ if not in its substance, at least in terms of organisation and electoral strategy. And’- a detail that is not at all unimportant, as a leader capable of more autonomy from the so far indispensable Traian Basescu.
To everyone’s surprise, Emil Boc has recovered the lost terrain and now seems to be the favourite. The present has been not at all foreign to the competition, having clearly expressed his preference and even raising questions as to Vasile Blaga’s probity, in the already traditional political style. He did not spare him of unfair hits. His bluff consists of the fact that Emil Boc’s success in his party will also strengthen his legitimacy at the helm of the government, therefore his replacing will become unlikely.
The big winner will therefore be the president, who will reinstate his total authority in the party and who will also have one extra competitive advantage to combat the criticism against the government. In the name of democratic rules: PDL still has majority in Parliament and its leader has been confirmed by the members of the party. More than that, PDL itself seems to have ‘a new beginning’, the winners probably operating certain modifications of the influence of the various factions. And, probably marginalising some of the old leaders.
Anyway, the confrontation is also going to decide the president’s political career in a dramatic way. Even if he wins, Vasile Blaga will seek the president’s decisive support and the latter could always adjust to the new context without allowing his position to be too much damaged.
However, a new party president will impose a more reformist rhetoric, one that should be more independent from Traian Basescu. Emil Boc will inevitably become the scapegoat of a disappointing government and the president’s support will not be easily forgotten. But the most difficult thing for the president is going to be his cooperation with a leader that will probably be less obedient than Boc. Cautious, versatile, authoritative if needed, Vasile Blaga will know how to maintain a complicated relationship with the president, but will also be at least tempted to deepen the breach in the party against his exclusive domination, because it is now the time to decide if being ‘Basescu’s party’ is an opportunity or a burden from an electoral point of view.
What is certain is that the voting delegates to the congress will go there fully aware of the president’s preference and voting for Blaga will be a fronde move. But the surprises are not excluded, because the very history of the party demonstrates that. Petre Roman defeated Ion Iliescu, Traian Basescu defeated Petre Roman and the star of the sitting president is fading. On the other hand, Vasile Blaga is not that brilliant himself and, although not crucial, that could be handicap. He can make up for that with his image of a skilled politician, able to take his party out of the political isolation of the recent years when the always available UDMR has been virtually its own ally.
In such an event, the problem will be the future of the premier, because it is unlikely that Vasile Blaga may lose his capital of credibility as a reformist if he was to become the head of the government in a pre-election year. It will also be interesting to follow the path of a potential presidential candidate, the current Foreign Minister, Teodor Baconschi. The shortage of credible candidates could propel him into the race. The condition is that, in the meantime, his supporter so far, President Traian Basescu should not renounce the potential of an intellectual interested in Cristian-Democratic ideas out of caprice or a simple change of tactic. Vasile Blaga’s side has always been rather reluctant to ‘Basescu’s intellectuals’, which means that an electoral cooperation with the current foreign minister would probably come against quite a good number of impediments.