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Bucharest
October 20, 2020
EDITORIAL

Intellectual in power

At some point, President Traian Basescu introduced his successor in cryptic manner. Asked who the following president might be, he made a vague sketch, insisting on his more academic dimension, compared to him, seen as someone at the antipode of an intellectual politician. Invited to read between the lines, commentators though they were discerning Teodor Baconschi behind that sketch. A publicist, read author, schooled at the Sorbonne, an ambassador with an interesting personality, Baconschi unveiled his political ambitions without room for doubts once he stepped into party politics. He became the president of a foundation of an ideological savour, was even elected to the party leadership, but somehow he never managed to join the major political whirl.

So the distance between him and the profile of the successor ‘chosen’ by the president started to grow.

Mihai Razvan Ungureanu emerging ‘out of the shadow’ (literally and figuratively) offers a new identity path to the man targeted by the sitting president. As diplomaed as Baconschi, with the same patina as a former chief diplomat, a young intellectual with political ambitions, why wouldn’t Ungureanu be the man contemplated by Basescu? Without forgetting the detail that he doesn’t owe his rise to a political party but to the president himself, who first appointed him as head of a secret service and now as PM. He really belongs to ‘all the president’s men’ – loyal without being servile, Grateful without being indebted. Once a minister supported by a party now in the Opposition, here he is, propelled as the ‘technocratic’ prime-minister of a political government. However, his political ties with the president and, at least implicitly, with the main ruling party, are clear. His statement ‘I didn’t become prime-minister only for a year’ is the expression of a real thought: he doesn’t intend to end his career being left to carry the can for other people. To him, his current position is a trampoline and it is not excluded that he may be already preparing his presidential candidacy.

As it would have been difficult for him to do some serious publicity while heading an intelligence agency, this election year presented to him as an opportunity. And premises are not as bad as they may look. His younger government team, a newer, more dynamic leadership style with a more effective authority, a less hollow and cheaply amusing rhetoric, a certain independence from party cabal combined could pay off. For the time being, however, all this is mere theory and the reality of administration can infirm it at any time. He will be playing a favourable part also in comparison with the inglorious Emil Boc administration killed by the protests of a frozen winter.

No matter how indebted to the president who propelled him he may be, Prime-Minister Ungureanu is not made of the same batch as the servile Boc. He will not be a sacrificial politician. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean that the president is not willing to use him if not as his successor, at least as someone who can claw the party out of the degringolade that is announced.

As far as the parliamentary election is concerned, several scenarios are possible. Either Ungureanu runs for a new term as prime-minister proposed by the party, or he doesn’t, keeping himself for the presidential election. In the first scenario he could use the charisma he may develop in his current term as PM and, either wins or not, he can afterwards plunge into the next electoral battle, unless he fails lamentably in the former. In the second scenario, having the aura of a certain degree of political independence, he can look for an even broader support base for the presidential election. But all this depends on a few factors: the image of governance (not so much its results as the impression given by the prime-minister’s action), his relation with the party leaders, the development of the president’s plans (known as a rather moody person when it comes to how he relates to other people). But, meanwhile, Mihai Razvan Ungureanu does enjoy the benefit of his image as an academic (in principle regarded as more responsible than other types of politicians, through a demanding combination of morality and humanistic values), a diplomat (less talkative and less uncivil), someone who has headed an intelligence service (realistic and well informed), an independent (lacking the dodgy sides of political enchainment). However, the issues of governance can easily stain such a promising profile. If he wants to win on such a short term, the in-coming prime-minister will need to prove the courage of outstanding initiatives. Will he be not just a discrete, but also impetuous James Bond?

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