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September 19, 2021

The privilege of a strong opposition

Crin Antonescu has predicted a crushing victory of the alliance headed by him and the premier, which he believes would lead to a parliamentary majority of a magnitude similar to that of the National Salvation Front (the political organization in the wake of the fall of the Ceausescu regime) in the first ‘free elections’ in 1990. This means more than three-fourth of the MPs will be of the same political hue (as this alliance is not a purely electoral one), a more than comfortable majority able to back a ‘strong’ governance, Antonescu’s view. The comparison is risky to say the least. The elections in May 1990 were held, symbolically speaking, on the ‘Sunday of the blind man’, the sixth Sunday of Passover, when Jesus met and healed a blind man, namely during an interval when most of the voters were totally unprepared for the critical exercise of democracy, opting for the most  paternalistic option.

Terrified by the insecurity of transition (cleverly sustained by an able propaganda), voters opted for Ion Iliescu, the `saviour of the nation` at the time, the helmsman of the great movement that the FSN was at the time, which borrowed not few elements from the former communist single party, defender of the masses against the greedy West. The consequences are known: until 1996, Romania had a `strong ` governance, a weak opposition and an `original democracy `(which has been resonating to this day in the form of endemic corruption, political clientele, excessive politicking of public institutions, a new `political` role of secret services, blackmailing using Securitate files, cronyism capitalism). Furthermore: the ‘great electoral victory’ of May 1990 was followed by the first miners’ riot, with miners, discreetly guided by secret services, ‘cleaned up’ the capital using clubs, chains and picks), which traumatized the opposition and led the first massive wave of post-communist opposition. Times have changed obviously, yet, the temptation to abuse power remains. On the other hand, does Romania really need a ‘strong’ governance? Such rhetoric was cultivated by nationalist, authoritarian-leaning parties of the Greater Romania Party (PRM) kind, which promised a Vlad the Impeller type of  `order` (by toughening punishments and police control). The Social Liberal Union (USL) appears to lack such appetite, although we could ponder on two aspects that are not to be neglected. The Social democratic Party (PSD) already has a strong tradition of governing through marked state politicking attested by both the `early` period, 1990-1996, and the Adrian Nastase governance, 2000-2004. In his turn, Crin Antonescu is the first Liberal leader who, in the troubled history of his party since 1990 onward has gone so far in marginalizing his fellow political opponents. The National Liberal Party (PNL) appeared over the past two decades as one of the parties with a functional internal democracy, which no longer is, obviously. Otherwise said, the premises for not a merely ‘strong’, but even excessively authoritarian governance are not missing.  The referendum adventure is an additional signal in this respect. We shouldn’t forget Hungary’s case either, where Viktor Orban’s party had a  comfortable majority which led to substantial political reform. Some could make the case for efficiency rooted in stability. While it is true that  political instability could seriously erode the exercise of governance, how then  was Premier Tariceanu (aside from the favorable international context) able to run a governance marked by significant economic growth despite President Basescu’s best efforts to get rid of him, pushing him into relying on a tacit alliance with the leftist foes? Moreover, instability is not due to  political spectrum atomization (the 5 pc threshold reduced the number of significant political actors), but he volatility induced by conjectural alliances based contemporary interests and not convergent ideas. The difference from Hungary consists in the USL being a lot easier to break up than a mere party would. While this is true, presidential aspirant Crin Antonescu’s personal political interests are tied to Liberals’ independent stance toward Social-Democrats . Similarly so, a weak opposition is not exactly a blessing for peaceful governance, as a government  is truly strong when it faces a strong opposition. The opponent should not be crushed, but outrun, kept in check at the worst. Otherwise, we go back to Clausewitz’s adage: `politics is the continuation, with different means, of war`.

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