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February 8, 2023

The ideal couple

Ex-PM Calin Popescu Tariceanu is facing the risk of being ousted from his party. His name is related to the most fortunate period of post-communist Liberalism in this country. He was the first and only Liberal PM so far, he led for several years a widely Liberal Cabinet and succeeded in reaching an honourable economic growth during his term. All those things happened concurrently under the very ungracious conditions offered by president’s opposition. For years, Traian Basescu did everything he could to remove him, yet Tariceanu surprisingly resisted up until the end. Actually, he is the leader who supported the closeness to the Social-Democrats, with the parliamentary support of whom he ruled the country after Basescu had blown up the Liberals’ alliance with the Democrats. In that context, he also withstood a very notable secession of a group of prime importance, led by the former PNL chief Theodor Stolojan.

His elegance was also associated with a more civilised political style free of the usual hysteria. Of course, he is not a Messianic or spotless politician, but his image as prime minister was, at leased hysteria retrospectively, a rather positive one. After the top change subsequent to the loss of power, he withdrew to a secondary line. He’s now back at an inappropriate time, reacting more with the bruised honour of a marginalised senior. He risks a tough response from Crin Antonescu who is becoming increasingly caught up in an authoritarian mania. The retort came rather abruptly on Saturday, when Antonescu said he was not going to insist on expelling anyone, but that he was nonetheless realising that the party statute had been seriously violated. At the same tome, he refused to back the statute changes Tariceanu had suggested. The connoisseurs will be able to read an obvious personal project into that – obtain the presidential office. The Liberals’ alliance with the Social-Democrats is actually based on the personal authority of the two leaders, each satisfied with their respective offices agreed upon beforehand. The parties backed that because they had inferred that it was going to be the safest road to power and the two of them know that it is the way to strengthen an easily breakable authority. Victor Ponta has appeared as a solution after ears of sailing adrift for the party and Antonescu as the chance to win presidency for the first time. The Liberal’s wish to get the power took the dual shape of populist and authoritarian trends, which makes him a lot like his absolute enemy, Traian Basescu. The first to try to give a more pyramidal style to PNL was Theodor Stolojan, but he was coming with his technocratic aura of an efficient specialist. Antonescu however chose a different centralising style, reducing, among other things, the influence of the ‘seniors’, of the democracy of high-profile leaders in his party. On the other hand, he has set up a group of faithful people whom he placed to extremely important positions, which enabled him to discard his old mates who are today more hostile. Tariceanu’s exclusion would, however, be a wrong move, one that would eventually lead to a more general phenomenon, to a dilution of Liberal identity and possibly to future political marginalisation. Any visionary politician needs to take into account the very low election turnout. People who do not regularly vote can at any time reverse the result in some outsider’s favour, if they can be seduced. Crin Antonescu resembles more those old rulers who would behead their subjects rather than show benevolence allowing possible usurpers to live.But Tariceanu will only gain prestige if he is ousted or just humiliated. Ever if elected, Crin Antonescu can attract public opprobrium even sooner than his predecessor.  Even if the failure of the current administration generated serious conflicts in the currently so tight ruling alliance, because the power of the two leaders in their respective parties depends a lot on the guarantee they offer individually for political stability. Tariceanu’s proposal to hold internal election to select the presidential candidate is a visionary one, as it represents the modern form of strengthening the authority and legitimacy of the leader, while putting a flat at the same time, as the successful candidate will always know that a certain part of the party – maybe an important one, too – did not want him. Such candidate will know the percentage (otherwise very volatile) he can count on over the time. He will not think of himself as the saviour everybody or at least the vast majority wants. But, as we were saying before, Antonescu has already turned him down, explaining that the situation would be decided at the upcoming Congress. Maybe other parties will try the system in the future. In fact, it is not the Liberals and the Social-Democrats that have the credit (actually a minority, given the turnout), the Ponta-Antonescu is. For now, they generate trust because they have managed to work together as no one before. This relative balance is appreciated, because, until now, presidents would seriously undermine their premiers or would appoint quasi-subservient people. Crin Antonescu’s biggest electoral agent is still Victor Ponta.

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