The governing party seems increasingly haunted by the threat of the spectrum of an imminent scision. And the question everybody seems to ask today is “will PSD split or not?”. The history of the Social Democrat Party includes a similar major schism in 1997, yet they were able to solve it finely and manage it so that they would not imbalance their position on the left side of the Romanian political spectrum. Now, nonetheless, things are different, and the context is obviously changed. Faced with the intentions of the new PNL, to result from the merging of the old PNL and PDL, to overtake the Government as fast as possible, following statements on this issue repeated all the more obsessively and insistently by the leaders of the party in opposition, PSD really cannot afford anything else than staying united in order to keep their comfortable majority in the Parliament so that the Ponta Govenment would not be dismissed by the Opposition’s announced motion of censure.
The postponement of the PSD Congress announced by party president Victot Ponta at the meeting of the National Standing Bureau (BPN) on Monday is seen by all analysts, in unison, as an attempt by the PSD leader to gain some time and to blanket the revolt simmering among the members. It is a revolt that may lead to the departure of a wave of disgruntled members to the new political forms announced to be founded by the members who have already left PSD, such as Sebastian Ghita, Mircea Geoana and Marian Vanghelie.
It is not unlikely that the announcement made by Victor Ponta on Monday at the BPN meeting regarding the new agenda of the party that stipulates the postponement of the Congress announced initially for March would come as a result to obvious signals received by Ponta during the last few weeks that followed the CExN in November, regarding the possibility of a massive split in the party. No earlier than a few days ago, Mircea Geoana and Marian Vanghelie suggested that they were in a stage of advanced negotiations with a considerable number of MPs from PSD (among 50 and 100) regarding the possibility that this massive number of MPs would join the left-wing party they were trying to found. Yet, attempting to seem in control of the situation, Victor Ponta made some defying statements during the last few days, declaring that the party was more united than ever before. “I do not fear a split in the party. There are no signs of this possibility”. Also the baron of Vrancea, Marian Oprisan, made a similar statement: “The split of the party is a fairy tale. There are no risks concerning a departure of any members of our parliamentary group”.
What made the PSD management decide to postpone the Congress while attempting to win some time seems to be an analysis by MEP Ioan Mircea Pascu that stirred the party. And it did so because it spoke about a potential split of PSD.
“I think that we are in a situation that resembles the one in 1997. We had lost the elections, and there was a group of PSD members led by Mr. Teodor Melescanu and Mr. Mircea Cosea, who attempted to overtake the leadership of the party. They were unable to, which is why they broke the party and created the Alliance for Romania (ApR), that went well until 2000, when it suddenly exited the stage. The same thing is possible to happen now. (…) I expect PSD to split, because I have seen it before. We have witnessed it in 1997 and we may witness it again”, Pascu declared in a PSD show, statement likely to send shivers down the spines of decision-reaching figures in the management of the party.
“The difference is that, at that time, Mr. Iliescu had lost the elections from the position of President of the country, and not as a party president. And there is one more thing: I wonder whether these elections could have been won”, MEP Pascu declared.
In reply, Victor Ponta was keen to reassure his colleague that PSD would remain a force and, moreover, the party would govern until 2016.
Immediately, the Social Democrat leader came up with the agenda of the party for 2015, which, surprisingly, did not include the Congress. “In January 30 and 31, we will summon the National Executive Committee of PSD, besides the Parliament groups, to establish the priority lines and the actions to be taken in the Parliament. (…). On March 20 and 21 (the period when the Congress was planned), the National Council will be summoned to discuss the political agenda until 2019, but also the changes in the status”, Victor Ponta declared at the National Standing Bureau without explaining the reason that led to the postponing of the Congress.
It is not the first time that the group of Reformists, that wanted a Congress immediately after Ponta’s loss in the presidential elections for an analysis of the situation was defeated. In the meeting of the National Executive Committee (CeXN) of PSD held on November 27, 2014, the extended leadership of the party decided to summon an extraordinary Congress for the spring of 2015, most likely in March. This represented the defeat of the members who had demanded an immediate Congress, to be organized until the end of the year 2014. Now, the Permanent National Bureau (BPN) changed the plan again. No Congress on March 20 – 21, but a meeting of National Council of PSD and after this forum chooses its president and discusses various points on the agenda, they will decide when to summon the extraordinary congress?
What does this thing mean?
It only means that Victor Ponta and Liviu Dragnea used a trick: they replaced a decision assumed in a forum of extended leadership (as CeXN includes the members of BPN, the presidents of all local branches, the PSD Ministers and some of the members of the Parliament) with a decision taken by a smaller group of people.
The lack of explanation provided by the prime minister regarding the postponement of the Congress immediately generated speculations that Ponta actually wants to win some time to strengthen his position and influence in the party and to decide how the long-discussed reform, imperiously necessary for the party, would look like, so that he could dispose of his potential enemies and any possible opposition within the party, where it is more comfortable to have merely “yes-men”. And no insurrectionists such as Mircea Geoana, Marian Vanghelie and Dan Sova, eliminated in November 2014 because they did no longer agree with the projects of the present management.
So far, MEP Catalin Ivan was the only one to firmly announce his intention to run for president in the party at the Congress, also expressing his utter disagreement with the PSD reform progress proposed by Vice-President Liviu Dragnea. “There are more visions and more ideas. We intend to come up with our own version. At the Congress, the best of them will be the chosen one”, Ivan declared several times after the CeXN of the party, held in November. His latest statement on this topic was made a few days ago on a TV station.
It is possible though that Ivan, as well as other candidates to the position of PSD president coming forward with similarly firm intentions to run for the mentioned position will no longer have the opportunity to present their political projects of reform as it is possible that the Congress would not pose the problem of electing a new managerial team, but merely the one of reforming the Status of PSD, as an alleged attempt to reform the party.
Even if an extraordinary Congress is organized (and it is a step that must be taken in order to change the Status of PSD), it is not compulsory to raise the issue of changing the president of the party. At the CeXN in November, Ponta had declared that he had placed his mandate in “the hands” of his colleagues and that he merely intended to lead the party until the time of the Congress. Afterwards, he changed his mind several times and he suggested that he was no longer willing to go with this plan. In the PSD Status, there is no notion such as “placing one’s mandate in the hand of the CEXN members”. The Status stipulates, nonetheless, that the president “is elected or withdrawn by all members of the party during internal elections” and that the term consists of four years. The last PSD Congress, when Ponta was reelected, had been held in April 2013.
Questioned on Monday, at BPN, whether he would run for one more term as leader of PSD, the Prime Minister mysteriously answered: “When the time comes, I will answer this question as well”.
Nonetheless, it is obvious that — if the extraordinary Congress that is kept being discussed and is kept being postponed will not include the elections of a new leadership team on its agenda, although it is imperiously necessary– there is an ongoing attempt to crush any potential opposition to the present leadership.
Until the Congress, though, all attention will be focused on the National Council.
The agenda of the National Council of PSD will include: the party strategy for the 2015 – 2019 electoral cycle, the changes to be adopted in the Status of the political group, the election of a President of the forum and, finally, the issue of summoning an extraordinary congress.
However, the topic regarding the election of a president of the National Council of PSD deserves an additional explanation. The position had been granted to Adrian Nastase and, after the latter was definitively convicted, Ponta declared that he would keep it vacant until the former Prime Minister decided whether he wanted to keep it in the future or he would give it up. If there is any competition for the leadership of this forum, it is yet to be seen who the Social-Democrats interested to go for it would be and who would support them. Actually, the National Council of March 20 – 21 will provide a complete and precise image of the influence polls in the party, and Victor Ponta and Liviu Dragnea will find out accurately, in the perspective of the extraordinary congress, who would be the “yes-men” and who would be the insurrectionists. Whom they may count on and whom to avoid.
If the fate of “yes-men” may be easily guessed, it is interesting to see what the insurrectionists would do, whether they would force to split of the party and how important this breakup will be for keeping the PSD influential in the left side of the political spectrum. As for the new parties, there is a great distance from words to facts. It might be easy to legally found a party, the difficult part is to find some financing. Yet, winning supporters and a percentage of the votes is also a difficult process. The experience of other small parties, or better said pocket parties, that appeared after other rebels left other important parties has shown that these are unable to collect more than 2 – 5 per cent of electors’ votes.