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January 28, 2023

Post-referendum landscape

With all of its meaning of covert elections, the referendum won’t leave the life of parties without consequences, especially since the end of the current parliament’s term is approaching. PDL leaders, encouraged by the result of the referendum (more than half of registered voters did not vote in favor of the USL position) are hurrying to form a new alliance. Of course, their hurry is based on a certain concern. The result has to be interpreted in a nuanced fashion. Not all votes for Traian Basescu’s impeachment will go to USL in the future elections. Some voted simply out of personal dislike. But there are fewer chances that those that voted against the impeachment for reasons other than sympathy for the elected president’s “political family” will be meanwhile persuaded to offer their votes to USL. Nevertheless, let’s not forget the high percentage of chronic absenteeism, which offers an advantage to those that managed to win over 40 per cent of the votes, namely to the same USL.

Nevertheless, something changed for all. PDL came out strengthened, at least when it comes to self-confidence. Vasile Blaga thus takes advantage in order to legitimize its fresh position as party leader. In this way, the party appears with a slightly improved image. A significant role is played by its new Vice President (at one point the party’s dissident on the verge of exclusion) Cristian Preda, a symbol of moralizing reformism in a party that is far from being immune to the temptations of corruption. And his more marked role contributes to the discrete change in the party’s image. But the big stake is the new alliance. The referendum campaign occasioned a first joint political experiment. Two foundations and three parties. A foundation (the Centre-Right Civic Initiative) that will probably become a political movement at some point. Created to launch candidate Mihai Razvan Ungureanu. The potential candidate for both the Prime Minister and President offices. Although it’s not ruled out he will remain a “civic” candidate like Emil Constantinescu was a decade and a half ago. At any rate, he has already started playing his role and is trying to create for himself an electorally attractive profile. Apart from an ideological identification (centre-right, Christian-Democracy, Neo-conservatism), the new alliance has started to legitimize itself by opposing a regime seen as the descendant of the old Social-Democrat governments. Thus, stimulating the older antipathy for a kind of all-encompassing party-state. The other foundation (“Christian-Democratic”) should have launched Teodor Baconschi, another potential presidential candidate. But his popularity did not rise significantly in the meantime, and his position within PDL suffered slight recoil. It’s interesting that Vice President Adrian Papahagi took part in the alliance talks, being also involved in the frontlines of the campaign against the impeachment. The Peasants’ Party is trying to recover after a decade of marginalization and internecine fighting. Its presence is an attempt to link the current alliance with the tradition of the former centre-right pole that CDR represented. The New Republic Party is a new party reminding us of the older niche parties such as Romania’s Alternative Party or the Union of Right-wing Forces. For Mihai Neamtu it would be a first electoral chance, although the premature association with better-known parties could prematurely drop his party’s growth capacity. On the other side of the political spectrum there are two parties whose leaders are left bruised after a lost referendum. Crin Antonescu is the worst affected of them, having played the role of President for a short while. He even announced with childish boastfulness that he will step down unless he eliminates Traian Basescu. He was rash, fearing that in two years of foreseeable governing USL will lose the political capital it gained by eroding the current President’s image and through the significant antipathies it generated in the last years of its term.For him this can be the beginning of the end, as much as that end will be dragged out by the lack of alternatives at the top of PNL. At any rate, his electoral potential is left seriously damaged after this hazardous political step. Victor Ponta’s situation is more nuanced. The plagiarism row did not exhaust its power of erosion, precisely because it was simply avoided through tricks of authority. Ponta’s political future seriously depends on the way he governs in the following months. Let’s not forget that USL was born to fight against Traian Basescu’s influence. Something more is needed to politically re-launch such an alliance. It’s very important for the current Premier to find a devoted and creative team that would give a true breath of fresh air to a party weighed down by its past. Victor Ponta has ended up being party president in special circumstances. Without having proven his qualities in any way. After the recent slide it’s time for him to prove he’s a real political leader, innovating and down to earth.

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