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August 15, 2022

Bitter fruits of autumn

Traian Basescu is returning to Cotroceni after a whole summer spent one step away from dismissal. Having tasted a little of the fruit of the presidential office, Crin Antonescu becomes a regular candidate in an election scheduled to take place two years from now. Victor Ponta on his part carries on with his Government work looking at a new election at the end of the year. But how did this summer of ‘impeachment’ change the Romanian political climate? First of all, it poisoned it with the hatred of a ‘total war’, polarizing the population like in the most fierce election campaign. Because that’s what it actually was: a pre-campaign, very effective for both sides. USL capitalised on one last opportunity to exacerbate antipathies for the ‘fallen star’ of Traian Basescu’s policy. They had prepared a symbolic guillotine like for a king fallen into disgrace, but missed it by a whisker.

Happy with the prospects of such a public torture rack, the crowd was already boiling. That entire rage will now spill onto the ‘president’s people’, and that announces a categorical USL success in the parliamentary election. In not so many words, the ruling alliance has taken a detour around a seductive governing programme and scored crucial points by channelling people’s frustration (major after so much austerity) against a now antipathetic leader. The reverse however is an activation of the suspicion of the undecided electorate about what a regime descending from previous ones, dominated by the post-communist left could offer. PSD has made tremendous efforts to shake off its image as a ‘party of corruption’, seeking a honorability of Western type (in the name of objectives such as prosperity, social peace, professionalism). So the phantoms of the past can be relatively easily revived in situations such as this recent one, where the ‘legislative putsch’ was received with concern by that part of the population still not blinded by its hatred for the president. Meanwhile, the bellicose insistence against Traian Basescu has had rung a bit false. Following the failure of the ‘player president’, his opponent, Crin Antonescu, has acted as a hyper-active proto-president, even with a touch of nervousness. The French example could be quite useful, as there the (excessively active) ex-president lost to an ‘example of normality’, preferred exactly because he lacked charisma. But that’s the kind of lesson neither the prospective presidential candidate Mihai Razvan Ungureanu has not understood, as he, too, seems to have chosen the messianic model, demonizing (in the otherwise already customary style of the right everywhere) an irresponsible left, self-propelling in the subtext as a providential saviour. But Victor Ponta is also getting out of this political ambush a bit tousled. Beyond his official solidarity with the president ad interim, he has been actually playing second violin in a partnership where Crin Antonescu has proved an excess of initiative (to say the least). So Ponta will probably need to consider more seriously the alternative of a more autonomous position in respect of the ambitions of his Liberal partner. At the same time, the semi-failure of the invalidation of the referendum is a possible prelude to the repositioning of power between the two ruling parties. Some are already anticipating possible changes at the top of both the Liberal and the Social Democratic Parties. With the USL victory looking certain, it is difficult to say when exactly such changes, if any, could happen. Weakened by the plagiarism scandal, Victor Ponta needs to secure more authority in his party if he wants to prevent the emergence of a redoubtable challenger. Neither is Crin Antonescu exempted from disquietude, as the relatively long while to the next presidential election (period when many things can still happen, especially an erosion of USL’s popularity) could be politically fatal to him. At the other side of the barricade of the enthusiasm of a come-back (based on the failed referendum) one needs to look with more scepticism. PDL is experiencing a serious credibility crisis and it obviously has no chances of a fast redress. On the other hand, a right-wing electorate or one that is simply worried about the prospect of a USL regime (seen, as I was saying before, more in the lineage of the old PSD hydrae) will look for its political representatives among the new-comers. Apart from the benefits of a regrouping of forces, the alliance shaping up on the occasion of the referendum (PDL, MRU’s Centre-Right Civic Initiative, the New Republic and PNT) also has a few shortcomings. There are people who would like to vote for new and more promising parties, even if they were developed to the detriment of the politics embodied by Traian Basescu. What misses is, in fact, the ‘third way’, left into the lands of the new populism represented by the People’s Party. The New Republic and ICCD look like mere satellites of the president or PDL’s. Their leaders have fallen into the trap of the recent political war, and, by that, diminished their electoral chances. The new regime has ruled for a too short period to be frontally attacked. The chance of the right would be a more radical alternative to the current system of parties. All in the name of a shift of generations and a more assumed European destiny. Actually a response to the sequels of a ridiculous (and purely rhetoric) local trophy. The fruits of this autumn are therefore less sweet than some politicians would have hoped.

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