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March 28, 2023

The doubts surrounding a candidature

Former premier Emil Boc might return to Cluj as mayor. This would be a first in Romanian politics, because – although Mugur Isarescu resumed his job as Central Bank governor after his brief foray into politics – he did not face the electoral test which the former Cluj mayor will have to win, if he runs for his old position. In other words, it would be the first time when electoral victory comes after a government interlude. However, this is just in theory, because Emil Boc does not stand very high chances.The downside is not the public memory of his Cluj-based performance, because in 2008 Boc was re-elected with a high score, which stands proof of local success. However, we should not forget the favourable context. After just a year of his first term in office, he became the president of a ruling party – a move that placed the city of Cluj in a privileged position when it came to money allotted from the state budget for various public works which added to the mayor’s enviable record. Coming after the long nationalist era of Gheorghe Funar, Emil Boc restored normality in Cluj (by removing the tricolor public items – benches, trashcans etc. – and covering the archological dig in the centre of the town), the foreign investments blocked by political uncertainty soared, and the artificial interethnic tensions diminished. Updating the road network of the town was another element that made the difference with the previous administration.Compared to the extremist and tense past, the Boc era received even more value. When Emil Boc took over the government, he was bearing the halo of a successful mayor, seen as such at Cluj and beyond. But then came three years of difficult governance. The generalised crisis, along with political instability and the president’s moods took their toll on the image of the party and its premier. Furthermore, the erosion of the president’s image also reflected upon his closest collaborator. All in all, Boc is the political creation of Traian Basescu, who could have left him be only a local star. The price was loyalty pushed to servilism. The president eventually sacrificed his premier, but late, and only after a long series of street protests. If he runs for Cluj again, Emil Boc will do it as a rather defeated premier, the political comrade of a president that goes through a crisis of popularity, and the head of a free-falling party. As if all these were not enough, his former henchman from the time when he was the mayor of Cluj, and also his successor, is arrested for corruption now, same as another fellow party member, a former vice-president of the Cluj County Council. But this is not necessarily a setback, because the arrest of the two local leaders was seen as an act of courage, given the connection – at least symbolic – with the premier.No matter how independent Justice may act, obviously there was also a political endorsement of this move. The other local leader of the party, the president of the County Council, has the first chance in the next elections, were it only for building a local arena – a notable asset in terms of popularity. Plus, the candidate of the opposition – a former Liberal president of County Council – does not have the charisma required for an uneventful electoral race. Thus, carrying the burden of an unpopular governance, but not entirely deprived of chances, Emil Boc might become mayor once again, with the support of a well-conceived campaign and in the context of a poor performance of his opponent. Yet, we might wonder: Why does the party push him back to Cluj? Do those who plan to deprive him of the party leadership want to completely sap his credibility through a humiliating defeat? Do they want to avoid his predictable political marginalisation? Or do they really want to regain some of the lost popularity?All dilemas aside, there is still the reality of a symbolic electoral battle. Winning Cluj is not decisive for not losing the government, but this is no secondary feat either, as it can matter in the future. And the decision to run in elections once again, against such odds, would be a bold move that would improve the image of the former premier. If he really receives political support, if he has inventive advisors and regains the electoral tonus, he may become a candidate “in cards.” However, for now, there are too many “if’s” in the game, and the good intentions of his colleagues have not been put to test yet.

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