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Bucharest
October 23, 2021
EDITORIAL

Image Battle

When the now-suspended president Traian Basescu appointed Foreign Intelligence Service (SIE), head Mihai Razvan Ungureanu as premier last February, it was clear he would be a potential candidate for the next presidential election. Furthermore, Traian Basescu’s tacit support was more than a mere supposition, the new premier at the time becoming the “dolphin” meant to be the president’s political successor.  MRU typologically matched Traian Basescu’s vision of the new president: more intellectual than himself, less of a ‘player’, without a populist profile, ‘more mannered’, without being burdened by any corruption scandal, ambitious, with ministerial experience, and a technocrat aura, too. And passing on governmental responsibility came not only as a solution to the image crisis of Democrat-Liberals, but also as an experiment in light of the upcoming elections.

A bid to re-launch an already-eroded party, even if under a new umbrella, MRU however only managed to hold on to power for too short a time, given the circumstances. The good thing is he didn’t have time to get discredited by governance he didn’t have a hold of politically speaking.  The new course of events however throws him into electoral fight sooner than expected. His candidacy for 2014 has been confirmed already and he didn’t rule out standing for president if Traian Basescu is dismissed following the referendum, and early elections are therefore to be held. What chance does he stand nonetheless? If the president returns to Cotroceni, then, MRU could take his time to prepare for the showdown two years from now.  He will profit from the benefits of a political fight between a state dominated by opponents and a president that would be his ally, even his mentor. The presidential stronghold could coagulate the resistance against the current Social Liberal Union (USL) regime, with all the image advantages offered to the ‘weaker’ side. All the ‘abuses’ will add up to the ‘strong rulers of the day’, Traian Basescu will become a Robin Hood fighting against the system and MRU could be the right hand of this justice-seeking outlaw.All of the aforesaid have little to do with the reality on the ground, obviously, yet, what counts is the dynamics of the collective mentality. We shouldn’t forget that Traian Basescu won in 2004 on the back of a successful political campaign. This is MRU’s chance as we, a politic virgin almost, which would help him easily fill the mould of a cleverly designed advertising profile. What is important is the capitalization on the discontent against the new governance, and this would not be of an economic nature only (standard of living, public employee salaries, business environment). Although the issue of the premier’s plagiarism was expedited via administrative knacks, its negative potential cannot be underestimated.What matters is not so much the dented credibility, but the suspicion insinuated as a result of the development of the events, a suspicion that could be relatively easy to be speculated upon in future.  The association with controversial business man Dan Voiculescu, the special interest for the status of former premier Adrian Nastase (just relocated to a more welcoming penitentiary ), the servitude showed by some ministers, who didn’t hesitate to compromise themselves morally defending the premier, the haste to grab the state institutions before acquiring electoral legitimacy, the claims raised to Justice (the  scandal of negotiations for the leadership of some institutions) could only give food for thought to the ‘spectators’ of domestic politics and create a climate of suspicion that could turn into antipathy.  Haste makes waste`, this is an adage that the USL leaders should ponder on. Let’s take a second alternative into account. If Traian Basescu is dismissed, MRU must get into a speedy candidacy, mainly that such outcome means that at least one-quarter of the voters would implicitly vote for Crin Antonescu, the almost sure presidential candidate running on the USL ticket, which, considering the absenteeism rate in Romania, is no small feat. Yet, even if MRU’s chance gets slimmer given the circumstances, his candidature could be a rehearsal for the next, as his being young works to his advantage  The issue is what position he would be in, as being the captain defending the `Basescu bastion ` is one thing, and a leader starting from scratch, quite another. Should he carry on his ‘civic initiative’ or should he convert it into a party? The answer to this question is pivotal for has strategy outcome, and that, since it would not target the Democrat-Liberal voting pool, in free-fall actually, and not even that a potential centre-right alliance, but should lead to a relatively new or potentially reformed party, and, at the same time, to a broader alliance.   However, he is not the party type of guy, he needs help from some versatile leaders. Traian Basescu’s stand after an would-be dismissal is yet another unknowable. He said he would retire from politics, yet, if this were to happen, how would the Democrat-Liberal leaders react? Would they still endorse MRU, at the same time giving him enough room not to be regarded as a figure head at the mercy of the ‘old foxes’ in the party? One cannot rule out that Traian Basescu could turn into a sort of Iliescu offering ‘counseling’ and even some prestige to his former fellow politicians. At any rate, a referendum result favourable to Basescu appear promising with respect to MRU’s electoral chance, which are not to be discarded exactly given its being the right antidote to the image risking to accompany the ruling governance: excessive politicking (according to the model of the former Nastase regime), flourishing corruption, political servitude, and rhetorical stiffness (the   national dignity` paradigm sees a second youth). Let’s say it again: whether all these phenomena will be confirmed or not, what matters is, that at the level of the collective imaginary, they could already be easily associated with a hasty government that hasn’t thought of all consequences. As Jean Baudrillard said, image gets autonomous beyond its relation with reality, an assertion fully valid for the Romanian political landscape.

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