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October 20, 2020

Parliamentary elections 2016: How many political leaders are electoral powerhouses?

These are the final days of the campaign and the leaders of the most important political parties are converging on television stations to persuade the electorate to vote for them, however not all of them are living up to the level of their predecessors in the last 26 years, who were veritable electoral powerhouses for their political parties. The days in which Ion Iliescu and Corneliu Vadim Tudor were identified with and taken for the political parties they were leading are long gone. Ex-President Traian Basescu is the last example of this kind, but the PMP President seems to lack a party to pull forward, according to political analysts consulted by RomaniaTV.net.

A series of political and media analysts have analysed for RomaniaTV.net the leaders of the most important Romanian political parties a few days before the December 11th elections.


Traian Basescu – a train engine with no train to pull


PMP President Traian Basescu is one of the most active party leaders. He is always present in television studios and a day rarely goes by without him posting messages online.

“Traian Basescu has over 380,000 likes on Facebook and a high number of likes and shares for every posting, basically a very interactive profile. If we leave aside party members who spread the message of their party president, we find an online electorate (target audience) that is well-anchored to Traian Basescu postings. This is the result of two moves – one strategic and the other tactical. From a strategic point of view, Traian Basescu had the necessary lucidity to communicate constantly and, consequently, has maintained the pool of followers from the time of his presidential term. From a tactical standpoint, Traian Basescu was among the first politicians who posted videos on Facebook. Moreover, he focuses on several big topics, such as unionism, which he returns to periodically.

“The politician Traian Basescu has maintained and cultivated the target audience he gained during the time of his institutional mandate, this being the reason why he remains this PR powerhouse. PMP is relying on Traian Basescu’s capacity to mobilise voters, a strategy that has worked, up to a point, in each political party whose member the ex-President has been. Whether he will enter Parliament, or not, depends a lot on how much the electorate considers the ex-President to still be a politician of the future.

“For PMP, Traian Basescu will act as an electoral powerhouse, however if we are talking about the other political parties, I don’t believe the idea of the “me against the world” leader is still of relevance for the public opinion, at least not during this campaign. Moreover, the vote is on party lists. As a result, the party logo becomes the motivational anchor that brings in votes. Party list vote means the person is behind the logo, unlike the uninominal vote which forced the candidate to get under the spotlight, regardless of the party whose member he was. Each party president is theoretically an electoral powerhouse for the party whose member he is. There are some exceptions too, PSD outranks Liviu Dragnea in popularity, for example,” political analyst Radu Magdin stated for RomaniaTV.net.

The 10 years he spent in office have eroded ex-President Traian Basescu.

“Traian Basescu’s charisma is no longer as good as it was 10 years ago. At first, he had some kind of self-irony and/or playfulness that he has lost over the years. But, at any rate, he is one of the two big moments in post-1989 political communication history. The first was Ion Iliescu, a combination of occultism and paternalism – the occultism referring to the fact that in the second part of his career he talked more through his spokesperson rather than directly. When he defined himself as an “active president,” Basescu also included direct, personal communication in his own arsenal.

Lately, Basescu is a train engine without a train to pull. It’s true that visibility gives the party traction, but the lack of (visibility of) a team creates a very personal perception for a party whose name nevertheless includes ‘popular movement,’” media analyst Iulian Comanescu told RomaniaTV.net.


Alina Gorghiu, possibly a small steam-powered locomotive


“The PNL leader cannot be a train engine, certainly not. She may be a small steam-powered locomotive. Ms. Gorghiu has many qualities, but PR abilities are not among them. Ever since Crin Antonescu, PNL has been unable to find a voice and to promote good communicators. Hence the PR fumbles that give their opponents the material for jokes,” Vlad Tausance emphasised.

A bizarre electoral ad featuring Alina Gorghiu went viral on the internet. In it, she is shown talking to a child who does not want to open the door. How did analysts perceive it?

“The video has close to 700,000 views, so it worked as a viral video – I don’t think all the views were paid. I’m not bothered by the strangeness of the ad, which seeks to give a personal note of warmth. There are two problems. The first has to do with realism, with the quasi-amateurish character of the video. It could have been better produced without losing credibility. And the second has to do with ethos, with who says those things. PNL is not in the position to present itself as the “good guy” in the game against PSD, a party it was allied with as part of USL not long ago. Although I see they are consistent in this direction, which is also visible in the way they copied the Social Democrats’ slogan – “Dare believe in Romania” – adding “a Romania led by honest people.” And with Gheorghe Falca chief of campaign for example. On the other hand, it’s worth noting how Alina Gorghiu changed her style. Look at what she wears and at her hairdo. She looks like a serious person for the first time in her life,” Iulian Comanescu said.

“This kind of communication surely remains in the collective memory (regardless of the nuance she wears). She could have done better, this is my first impression: when an ad does not shine the best light on you, then it’s better not to bring it up again, redoing it, because the initial ‘kodak moment’ pops up in memory at any rate,” Radu Magdin pointed out.


Liviu Dragnea, incompatible with Facebook


PSD President Liviu Dragnea had a campaign on Facebook, promoting himself alongside the party’s best PR vectors – Gabriela Firea and Victor Ponta. However, the specialists’ perception is that the PSD leader is not compatible with the social network. “My impression is that Dragnea is incompatible with Facebook,” Iulian Comanescu said.

Vald Tausance also believes Liviu Dragnea is a digital migrant who does not understand the online world. “He talks its language with a rural accent, consequently he doesn’t enjoy success.”

“Liviu Dragnea is a current leader, accepted by the PSD members; it remains to be seen how much appeal he will have outside the party. The pre-campaign approach with constant chess moves against the technocrats and parliamentary stances was successful in consolidating his image as the party’s uncontested leader, as well as in positioning himself as the main opposition to Ciolos. Nevertheless, from the standpoint of numbers, Victor Ponta is doing better on Facebook, thanks to the same flow we saw in Basescu’s case – high-level public office as well as a high degree of interaction with his fans as well as with his critics. Mr. Ponta’s [Facebook] account sparks heated debate, is much more passional and more natural than Mr. Dragnea’s account. You can agree or disagree with the messages, but you can’t remain indifferent,” Radu Magdin concluded.


Calin Popescu Tariceanu catches on with conservative electorate


“I believe the Daniel Constantin – Calin Popescu Tariceanu duo is working. Mr. Tariceanu still carries some weight for the conservative electorate, which is disappointed with the new PNL, with the new technocratic reality and with the new post-crisis reality. In the race for the Senate, he carried forward, in a baritone-like manner, the Opposition’s main topics of attack – the alleged political control of the judiciary, the results of the governance, Parliament’s status –, thus capitalising on his image as an ex-Premier but also on his good knowledge of the central institutions.

“Mr. Constantin is maintaining, even boosting his political brand, just as he has done so far: discretely and in a non-conflictual manner. I find it a correct stance in the race for the Lower Chamber, but also for the office of Prime Minister in the future. It remains for us to see what projects he supports and will choose in the following period,” Vlad Tausance points out.

“Calin Popescu Tariceanu is using a PR capital he has, as ex-Premier, but also from the standpoint of his position as Speaker of the Senate. It remains to be seen whether ALDE will stand to win strongly from his clear anti-DNA stance,” Radu Magdin stated.


Nicusor Dan is an upside-down Trump


“Nicusor Dan is anti-charisma. He has for a long time cultivated an intransigent and anti-compromise attitude related to the other independent groups, but, somehow, USR has picked up speed against him. He is in the situation Iohannis was in several years ago, when a certain electorate would have elected anything or anyone to get rid of what was dubbed in city squares “the same mess,” namely Romania’s two large parties. Moreover, USR has lately contributed to a correct political construct, the tacit alliance with PNL in support of Ciolos. Of course, this does not make them a real party with local branches and all that, but it was seen in the U.S. too, with Donald Trump, that there are moments in which the electorate tends to say “enough is enough,” regardless of campaign strength and other considerations. Curiously, Nicusor Dan is an upside-down Trump,” Iulian Comanescu said.

“Nicusor Dan needs a massive exercise in rhetoric and public presence. A leader is great if he is of good faith, but he also has to inspire. USR will have an implosion problem if it fails to position itself in the public opinion with a constructive theme after the elections campaign, if it enters Parliament with a score worthy of consideration (over 7-8 percent at national level). What Nicusor Dan, Clotilde Armand and USB managed to do in the local elections is praiseworthy. Nevertheless, the Bucharest electorate is very fluid and continuously changing, and Bucharest is not representative for the rest of the country as an electorate. USR is testing its relevance for Romania in this campaign. If it manages to enter Parliament, it will grow strong and will become a force in the medium term. If it doesn’t manage to enter Parliament, it will remain with the local elections result which can be electorally capitalised in time, but with a large consumption of resources, resources they do not seem to have. I believe that Romanians living abroad, part of the 18-35 age bracket, will vote for USR, as well as certain large and more cosmopolitan cities: Bucharest, Cluj, Iasi, Timisoara,” Radu Magdin believes.

Vlad Tausance hopes that Nicusor Dan would have the endurance needed to build a decentralised party and not to disappoint his progressive electorate. “He can be the anti-establishment image the civil society and the middle class have long waited for, he has had a niche reserved for him for some time now. I don’t know how well he fares when it comes to empathy and tolerance, two mandatory traits for the level he aims for,” the consultant pointed out.


Dacian Ciolos, an electoral powerhouse for himself


“I believe Mr. Ciolos is an electoral powerhouse for himself and for a necessary change in mentalities and attitude in Romania. He is by far the most charismatic and natural leader in the online environment, he instinctively understands the rules and limitations of the network and communicates better than all campaign teams. USR and PNL are, for the moment, unstable political structures with identities undergoing reform or maturing. None of these structures can keep up with Mr. Ciolos. USR out of vain hesitations, PNL out of precaution. How could Mr. Ciolos be a PR leader for the retrogressing Falca or Ben-Oni Ardelean?” Vlad Tausance rhetorically asked.

Radu Magdin sees Premier Dacian Ciolos rather as an electoral powerhouse for PNL, although both parties – PNL and USR – are trying to tuck themselves under Ciolos’s electoral blanket.

“Dacian Ciolos is a PR powerhouse for a right-wing coalition scenario, in a Parliament in which PNL is the main actor, or an important negotiation lever in a PNL-PSD national union coalition. Liberals have relied on the PR capital that the incumbent Premier has and that is why they are pushing him in the frontlines of campaign communication. In this latter equation, USR sees itself cornered and is forced to act as an appendage. The exercise proposed by Ciolos – “I won’t run for the sake of keeping my independence” – could be too subtle and may not work: manliness, the taking of responsibility works in Romanian politics, not girlish stances adopted in harsh battles as this year’s parliamentary elections are foreshadowed to be.

“If we are to toy with metaphors, I believe Ciolos is an iron lung rather than a powerhouse for PNL. Those with discernment do not forget Ciolos was brought to power by the anti-establishment wave that followed Colectiv, and PNL was an enemy to and a brake for the Ciolos Government. They will see consistency in Ciolos, and in PNL a new flip-flop after all the things it did after the D.A. Alliance collapsed,” Iulian Comanescu concluded.

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