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June 26, 2022

Pope and anti-pope

As the communications technology evolves and criminality changes its nature, tapping into phones has become common practice. Legal or not (like in the recent row that sparked in British media), moral or not (the fear of the Big Brother persists), political or legal weapon (deriving from the famous Watergate), this practice became norm in Romania too. Furthermore, the media made public the transcripts of conversations that are sometimes hallucinating. We can remember the dialogues of businessman Sorin Ovidiu Vantu with various collaborators, or the conversations of corrupt policemen associated with blackmailing journalists. Now, ministers have their phones under surveillance, and even the prime minister did not escape this practice. Thus, a minister of Interior said in a private phone talk that he fears going to prison.

What should the average reader understand from the daily press? It seems a joke. Yet, it is true, and the former minister is forced to recant even his discreet accusations of claimed pressures by the two presidents – suspended and interim. The calm and cool-minded Transylvanian was caught at the crossfire between two natives of Dobrogea, which somehow evoke the dry and unforgiving landscape of the arid landscape of this region. Even the Romanian political scene starts to look like the steppes of Dobrogea with their dry land, poor vegetation and arid weather. If this is the geographical landscape, the historic one suggests the Middle Age, when papacy was undermined by its own in-fighting. Back in the old times, these fights resulted in the dispute between popes and the so-called anti-popes, when Avignon rivaled Rome as center of the ecclesiastic power. By analogy, Traian Basescu and Crin Antonescu are a president and an anti-president that fight over authority, without a credible arbitrator. The interim took his role so seriously that he replaced all the advisors appointed by his rival, like it were no possibility that his opponent resumes his dignity. And probably he is tempted to stay in his place until the parliamentary elections. And reconfirm his political comrade Victor Ponta as premier. The recent “small reshuffling” of the cabinet was made to this view, with nominations specifically intended for key ministries. The pervert consequence is the hit taken by the credibility of institutional that are fundamental for the democratic practice. An example is the Constitutional Court, an arbitrator of the democratic game; it could benefit from a better functioning status and criteria of appointing its members, but now its authority took a serious blow, after months of exacerbated political conflict. It is normal for ministers to be subordinated to the premier, but some of them consider there are limits of authority, and there are orders they cannot accept. Ioan Rus is such an example, and this is especially surprising as initially he demonstrated an excessive abnegation in defending his boss, risking his reputation through hallucinating statements about the cultural tradition of plagiarism. the presidential institution, too, emerges with damaged credibility, as the “quarrel of presidents” risks to lead, in time, to a constitutional reform that will cut from the authority of the “head of state,” in favour of the prime minister. Even the present situation demonstrates the president’s temptation to lead from the shadow, more or less ignoring the premier. This damages the coherence of the act of governing. Would Victor Ponta have entered this “total war” hadn’t he been pushed from behind (even manipulated) by the ambitious Crin Antonescu? The Liberal leader knows well that, after two years of USL government, his electoral credit may drop significantly, same as his chances of becoming president. His only chance is represented by early presidential elections, so he forces now the dismissing of Traian Basescu. If we think it in-depth, things are not precisely comfortable for Victor Ponta. A young party president, he risks his future through the unconditioned association with a leader that plays everything on one card. USL will probably win the elections in winter, but at a lower score than expected when it took over the government. And the decline can be significant enough to hamper the future political stability. Surprisingly, for now USL proves to be one of the most stable political alliances. Just the weakness against a Traian Basescu that retains much of his power does not explain everything. Victor Ponta is still uncertain, he exclusively depends on the more experienced Liberal leader, and the prospect of heading his own party, rather than an alliance, is not the most desirable alternative. In fact, PSD is going through an identity crisis which the post-Nastase era has not clarified yet. After the events of these months, with the reactivation of PSD antipathy among a rather apathetic electorate, declaring oneself a champion of the left no longer is an easy task for the only party of the kind that remained in politics. Perhaps the time has come for Victor Ponta to become more autonomous from the political plans of the USL co-president, and to create his own agenda.

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