On Sunday, January 22, tens of thousands of Romanians took to the streets.
The reason for this huge outburst of national consciousness was the Grindeanu Government’s unfortunate and uninspired attempt to squeeze in on the order of the day of the January 17 Government meeting two draft emergency ordinances concerning amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code that concern amnesty and collective pardoning.
What can be labelled as the surprise element of the January 22 protest was the President himself, Klaus Iohannis, who came out into the street, joining the protesters.
On the evening of January 23, in the speech that the President gave to mark the commemoration of the 1859 Union, Klaus Iohannis announced he will trigger a referendum in which Romanians could freely and directly express their will and choice regarding the governmental initiative on the granting of amnesty and pardons.
This astounding and unpredictable presidential initiative was a huge breath of fresh air and hope for the Romanians who have been, for some time now, under the pressure of events that raised to alarming levels their distrust in the political class and the decisions it visibly and worryingly takes as far away as possible from the people’s eyes and as close as possible to the personal interests of the various power groups that have alternated at the country’s helm for well over two decades.
A referendum or plebiscite, as is well known, is one of the few political instruments through which a country’s citizens are directly consulted on issues of entirely special importance for the state. The referendum is a form of direct democracy.
All of this would have been good and extraordinarily welcome provided the presidential staff and the presidential aides on judicial and PR issues in particular had succeeded doing that minimal and essential exercise of analysing (assuming, with indulgency, that someone who plays such a role still needs to analyse what they already should have known), with maximum care, the Constitution of the country and, in particular, the situations and topics of national interest on which the president can trigger a referendum.
Because, per article 90 of the Romanian Constitution, “the President of Romania may, after consultation with Parliament, ask the people of Romania to express, in a referendum, their will on matters of national interest,” with the amendment that, according to another article of the same fundamental law, namely article 74, paragraph 2, “a legislative initiative of the citizens may not touch on matters concerning taxation, international affairs, amnesty or pardon.”
Consequently, all of the president’s good intentions and beneficent impetus toward Romanians came crashing down in a single evening because of an unacceptable error of calculus and of incorrect information on the part of the professionals who are behind the presidential institution.
Here, several extremely important aspects come to mind, related to the current political dynamic and the so-called war waged by President Klaus Iohannis, who is without a party and without viable political armies that would ensure for him a representative and strengthened power domain in the state vis-à-vis the newly empowered and enthroned left-wing political class whose armies are visibly advancing step-by-step in this political war, moving toward the rattling and overturning of the current presidential armchair.
One of these aspects has to do with the strategy that Klaus Iohannis chose or was advised to use in order to manage to maintain a minimal and extremely fragile position of political balance and strength in relation to the left wing’s massive power dispositions.
It’s more than obvious that the left wing has managed to almost completely isolate the presidential persona and political strength, deriving maximum of profit from this imposed isolation, technically speaking, however not also from the standpoint of PR and popular acceptance.
Paradoxically, although lacking a party as a form of political back-up and lacking any other position of power that would maintain or uplift his standing among Romanians, although setting out with a clear handicap at the level of communication and cohesion with the state’s social-electoral area, and even I would dare say without too much positive media support, Klaus Iohannis has managed lately, through completely unpredictable moves, to garner the Romanians’ attention and to absorb, almost overnight, a great dose of sympathy and credibility.
And a referendum offered at the peak of a social-political crisis represents a glove that the current president has thrown, in an entirely elegant manner that is as popular and legitimate as possible, in the courtyard of an opponent whose level of popular confidence and sympathy is undergoing an obviously free and accelerated fall.
However, as I said, all fine and dandy as long as Klaus Iohannis’s battle strategy were not based (and I want to believe it is not in reality) solely on exalted momentary impulses or on a procedural coherence fallen into the derisory of erroneous calculations, lacking vision and legitimate content from the constitutional standpoint and especially the standpoint of a state president who, before being a political entity with interests and stakes in this sense, is a guarantor of the defence of the interests of the state and of its citizens.
In my opinion, for things to be simple and simplified in what concerns any of the president’s initiatives and any shadow of doubt that the current ruling coalition could throw on the good intentions and correct meaning of any presidential gesture that refers to the state and to Romanians, Klaus Iohannis should use, in a manner as symmetrical as possible, the mirrored actions and reactions of left wing leader Liviu Dragnea.
Because, despite being legitimised by the popular vote and reaching the highest levels of power, the political left wing, headed by its absolute leader Mr. Liviu Dragnea, has started off on the wrong foot its path toward the rarefied peaks of glory.
Out of an obvious exacerbation of the effects of power inebriation that Liviu Dragnea is clearly and visibly suffering from, almost all the initiatives of the political party he rules with an iron fist – starting with the great and mind-boggling governing platform which is in the exclusive possession of the left wing’s leader and which has become a sort of open secret, continuing with the manner in which he understood to impose his will in an univocal and as shocking as possible manner in what concerns the setting up of the current Social Democrat parliamentary bastion and the personal “court” imposed in the Government area, and with his inadmissible gesture of literally scolding the Grindeanu Government, after spending five days at the socialising event in the U.S., for drafting a budget far too little on his liking and far too little based on his mysterious personal governing scheme, as well as with him overbidding the presidential referendum proposal with two other referendums which had been planned for the autumn, as Mr. Dragnea had said – are but extremely precious and handy cards that President Iohannis could and should use as unbeatable trump cards in the face of a ruling power that is about to burst its banks because of the megalomaniacal and strangely parsimonious personality of the left wing’s leader, who is accompanied and followed by an ally – Calin Popescu Tariceanu – who believes that a referendum proposal coming from a head of state represents an expression of totalitarian regimes!
And so far, one can say President Iohannis is skilfully using the cards offered by Mr. Liviu Dragnea. The last example is the postponement of the decision to send to Parliament, for debate and adoption, the 2017 budget, because of the lack of a… consultative report from the Supreme Defence Council. A body that Mr. Iohannis saw fit to convene no sooner than five days after Premier Grindeanu offered, in an urgent procedure, the final budget draft.
One can say it’s a war usually won by capitalising on the opponent’s errors and converting them into victories.
That is why, with or without a referendum that would help Klaus Iohannis help Romanians, to a greater or lesser extent, in the fight against high-level corruption, Klaus Iohannis can really turn to his and the Romanian citizens’ favour any backsliding that the current ruling power registers and will register from now on, simply by correctly positioning himself as mediator, with an added value of active president who knowns and can correctly and opportunely point out his opponents’ errors.
Because, unfortunately, the corruption that has grabbed hold of Romania and has spread like a metastasized cancer to all state levels cannot be annihilated or stopped just through a referendum.
No matter how well-intended and of good faith the president that triggers such a demarche is.
The only viable argument that remains consists of the actions that President Klaus Iohannis can initiate and carry to completion through all the constitutional means with which the presidential institution and the very person of the president is invested.
And, in this case, I’m certain that Romanians, those tens of thousands of Romanians who marched on the streets for two Sundays in a row, will be President Iohannis’s most efficient and democratic army.