On June 17th, the Liberals will elect their future party leader: they must choose between a politician described as being suggestible (Cristian Busoi) and one perceived as being authoritarian (Ludovic Orban).
Three candidates have entered the race for PNL’s leadership: MEP Cristian Busoi (39), former Transport Minister Ludovic Orban (54) and PNL District 2 First Vice President Viorel Catarama (62). The latter, considered Cristian Busoi’s lure, is ruled out of the elections’ equation by both party sources and analysts contacted by PressOne rule.
Prominent PNL members have already lined up behind the two candidates credited with chances, as seen at the filing of their candidacy motions.
Hypocrisy, lack of vision, absurd mistakes, compromise solution, ideological crisis – these are but some of the expressions that analysts and Liberal sources are using to describe the situation within PNL.
Even though it managed to win the presidency – in 2014 – for the first time in its post-1989 history, PNL has ended up in a crisis more acute than ever, especially after the 2016 elections year marred by failures, blunders and internal divisions.
While the factions are grouping based on personal stake criteria, a dilemma remains: can any of the two be the redeeming solution for the main opposition party?
Starting off from this dilemma, PressOne presents a snapshot of the “battlefield” within PNL, along with the portraits of the two candidates as seen by party colleagues and political analysts.
The Busoi faction
Ex-minister Teodor Atanasiu, former secretary general Dan Motreanu – who retired from PNL’s first echelon after he was indicted for corruption –, Caras-Severin County Senator Marcel Vela and Neamt County Lower Chamber lawmaker Mugurel Cozmanciuc have pledged support for Busoi.
Likewise, Busoi’s candidacy motion was signed by several MEPs – including Adina Valean, Ramona Manescu and Daniel Buda – but also by five of the six district party branch leaders in Bucharest. Against the backdrop in which Busoi is president of PNL Bucharest. PNL District 2 is the only party branch in Bucharest that does not back Busoi, backing Catarama instead.
Among the former members of PDL – party absorbed by PNL after the presidential elections of 2014 –, Busoi is backed by ex-minister Sulfina Barbu and Lower Chamber lawmaker Tinel Gheorghe.
According to our sources, Busoi is also backed by an influential group that consists of Lower Chamber lawmaker Mihai Voicu – probed by DNA prosecutors in a criminal dossier opened in April 2017 –, ex-Culture Minister Gigel Stirbu and ex-Health Minister Eugen Nicolaescu.
Former PNL President Crin Antonescu roots for Busoi too, breaking his long silence to make public statements of support in this sense.
According to press information – confirmed by PressOne sources – his support is based on Busoi’s promise to keep Adina Valean – Crin Antonescu’s wife – at the top of the party’s list for the European Parliament elections.
Crin Antonescu denied those allegations, stating that Adina Valean does not need such support because she has already built a solid career within the European Parliament.
According to our sources, Lower Chamber lawmaker Mihai Voicu negotiated an eligible place for his wife, Claudia Benchescu.
Benchescu was on PNL’s EP elections list before too, but not on an eligible place.
Returning to the two factions, Marian Petrache – who signed Busoi’s motion – is rather in the undecided category. “Petrache is playing a double game, as always,” PNL sources told us.
Venerable Senator Leon Danaila and Timisoara Mayor Nicolae Robu are also among Busoi’s staunch supporters. In what concerns the latter, the press wrote several years ago that he allegedly awarded to a company owned by one of Busoi’s godsons a contract worth almost 1 million euro for the pruning of trees in Timisoara.
The Orban faction
Acting PNL President and Lower Chamber lawmaker Raluca Turcan, the mayors of three important municipalities – Oradea Mayor Ilie Bolojan (former secretary general of the party), Alba Iulia Mayor Mircea Hava and Arad Mayor Gheorghe Falca – as well as PNL Iasi Vice President and K1 fighter Catalin Morosanu, are some of Ludovic Orban’s most influential backers.
Lower Chamber lawmaker Florin Roman is another heavyweight backer that would end up part of the PNL’s leadership team in case Orban wins.
According to our sources, Florin Roman, Ilie Bolojan and Raluca Turcan would be options for the offices of First Vice President, if Orban wins.
Orban enjoys the backing of regular members. There are many cases in which party branch leaders wanted to back Busoi but the branches’ regular members were against it.
Busoi and Orban, neck and neck
Political analyst Cristian Pirvulescu states that, at this moment, the candidates are “neck and neck”. However, he confirms that most regular party members are on Ludovic Orban’s side.
“If we’re talking about the number of party branch leaders who support him, Ludovic Orban has the top shot. If we’re talking about the challengers who are popping up in the competition, Cristian Busoi would have the top shot.
“We’re talking about a large number of delegates, so such a vote is difficult to coordinate, but of course it’s not impossible. Since PNL is the result of a merger with PDL, I think they maybe took over some of their organising.
“In what concerns the candidates, let’s not forget that Busoi, as secretary general of the party, knows its mechanisms well. On the other hand, former secretary general Ilie Bolojan backs Ludovic Orban and he too knows the party well. I also believe the rumours regarding President Iohannis’s backing would have influence.”
In his turn, political analyst Andrei Taranu says that there is “a symbolic imbalance” between Orban and Busoi. In his opinion, Viorel Catarama’s role is to “bite off” some of the votes that would otherwise go to Ludovic Orban:
“Orban is the former Liberals’ favourite, and Busoi represents the unity candidate acceptable to some of the Liberal Democrats too.
“This is also visible from the declared backers: Bolojan and all those who come from the structures of the old PNL are by Orban’s side, while Crin Antonescu – the one who set in motion the merger process – but also others who come from PDL are on the other side.”
In the last two years, Cristian Busoi made a series of PR gestures as if he was “training” for the position of party president.
In the summer of 2015, he started to appear alongside the leaders of PNL, particularly alongside Alina Gorghiu, at various press conferences and party events.
Subsequently, within PNL it was rumoured that Busoi was mulling a bid for the Bucharest City Hall. Also back then, Ludovic Orban was rumoured to be a potential candidate for that office too, however without him enjoying real support at the top of the party.
Sources quoted by PressOne say that, back then, Orban was credited with higher chances but Busoi had already started to lobby within the party and occasionally on television too.
After the Colectiv nightclub fire, Busoi was invited – in his capacity as physician – to Antena3 private broadcaster’s main evening show, moderated by Mihai Gadea.
Busoi’s association with the tragedy did not end there however: during a press conference, PNL’s fresh candidate for the Bucharest City Hall used the Colectiv nightclub fire as a backdrop image. In fact, this gesture nipped his campaign in the bud.
Controversies regarding the way Busoi gained his wealth started surfacing in January 2016: the ‘Busoi’s Godsons’ dossier concerns two persons who allegedly pocketed huge sums of money from the National Property Restitution Authority (ANRP) around the same time he was updating his wealth statement by declaring the ownership of 15 million Fondul Proprietatea shares.
Physician, notary public, politician, graduate of the National Defence College and former aide to Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, at almost 40 years of age Cristian Busoi seems to have done a little bit of everything and, when all is said and done, nothing concretely.
At the end of February 2016, he withdrew from the local elections race and PNL’s leadership nominated Ludovic Orban as its candidate for the Bucharest City Hall.
Orban ended up having a criminal dossier as a result of this electoral adventure. DNA prosecutors accused him of asking businessman Tiberiu Urdareanu, owner of UTI Group, for campaign contributions.
Following these accusations, Orban resigned from all party offices and no longer ran in the parliamentary elections of 2016. Subsequently, he was acquitted by the court of first instance but is currently waiting for the final court ruling in this case.
Returning to Busoi, his political career seemed to stall in 2016, only for it to make a forceful start in 2017: in just a few months, he became the party’s acting secretary general and head of the Bucharest branch.
In the candidacy motion he filed for the PNL party conference, Cristian Busoi writes:
“I’m part of the young generation that stepped up to the frontline of politics, against the backdrop of the destruction of confidence in the old political class as a result of the judiciary’s actions.
“I don’t claim to be a saviour, a political star. In politics, I’m not looking for waves of emotions, nor for an earthquake of applauses. I’m the opposite of the providential leader that overtaxes emotions but offers manipulations and cheats until there is nothing left of people’s confidence in politicians. I’m an anti-star, an anti-populist.”
One thing is certain: Busoi lacks a good public image.
Orban, good public image
Busoi has the quality of being more consensual than Orban, but he is not backed at the level of public opinion. Orban, who has an extra 15 years of political career, has started to capitalise on this.
“On the other hand, while Orban has a good public image, he has defects related to his somewhat impetuous character,” political analyst Cristian Pirvulescu believes.
“Consensual” is the term that analyst Andrei Taranu also uses to describe Busoi. He also states that, on the other hand, consensus can come from the fact that Busoi is more willing to obey “commands”:
“Busoi is a much more suggestible person, he is probably easier to negotiate with and he’s a person who can answer the commands of some whom he feels to be superior – not necessarily from a political standpoint but from an administrative standpoint and the standpoint of age.
“On the other hand, Mr Orban rather has an authoritarian look, the look of leader who would probably try to maintain his autonomy from the party for as long as possible and who would be a leader as he imagines he should be: rather strong and authoritarian.”
The same kind of talks are taking place within PNL: which of the two is more suitable?
“Some PNL members fear Orban, because he could become dictatorial if he wins. On the other hand, Busoi does not inspire confidence, has surprise-strategies and people he pushes forward.”
Mistakes of the past
PNL’s downfall started, paradoxically, immediately after Klaus Iohannis’s victory in the presidential elections, when the old PNL and the old PDL found themselves in the same house, with two co-presidents: Alina Gorghiu and Vasile Blaga.
More active than Blaga when it comes to public communication, Gorghiu received numerous critiques for PNL’s stance on numerous topics: from its attacks against USR during the local elections campaign in June 2016, to the inexplicable votes that the Liberals and Gorghiu herself cast on the healthcare reform topic, for instance.
“Alina Gorghiu had a very difficult mandate, in my view, a mandate she did not complete honourably, so that she could not put anything on the table. It should have been a mandate to reorganise the party and to merge the two groups, but the reorganisation did not take place in a real manner.
“Each group continues to exist and to have its own interests. The party’s image had a lot to suffer. Question is could she have done something else. If she were more authoritarian and if she hadn’t allowed herself influenced by various passions, maybe she could have.
“What was pretty embarrassing was this unbelievable hypocrisy the old PNL had to live in. They were in power until March 2014 and, less than a month later, they started fuming against PSD and against the PSD Government they had been part of,” political analyst Andrei Taranu says.
“Alina Gorghiu was a kind of compromise solution, starting off from the premise that she will feminise and impart a good image to the party. Good image is not sufficient for leading a party amid a transformation crisis.
“It wasn’t a successful presidency. If it were, we would have had her in office today too. The one who replaced her is not a better solution either,” Cristian Pirvulescu considers.
In fact, analysts are sceptical in what concerns a leader’s chance to unify PNL, because two different visions persist within the party.
“The merger between PDL and PNL failed because they tried to unite two different organisational cultures, two different ideological visions. PNL ceded its ideology, adopted PDL’s ultra-conservative vision, as a pragmatic party that jumped from socialism to conservatism, a mortal jump for them.”
The Iohannis factor
Several photographs showing Cristian Busoi alongside Klaus Iohannis have fuelled rumours that he enjoys the President’s support.
Cristian Busoi alongside Klaus Iohannis and Ivan Patzaichin. Photograph posted on Cristian Busoi’s Facebook account in December 2015.
Moreover, as journalist Dan Tapalaga points out, when launching his candidacy Busoi used Iohannis’s slogan – ‘Romania of the job well-done.’ Presidential Palace sources subsequently stated for HotNews that the President “disavows the gesture.”
Will Klaus Iohannis have a role to play in PNL’s elections? Cristian Pirvulescu believes that the President cannot risk losing control of the party.
“I don’t believe President Iohannis affords the luxury of losing PNL, because if he loses PNL he’ll remain alone. Without collapsing, his popularity is no longer at its 2015 level.”
Andrei Taranu believes the opposite:
“PNL is in such a strong and profound ideological and administrative crisis that I would say that yes, President Iohannis affords losing it. Artificially keeping it alive would cost him more.”
Viorel Catarama’s candidacy invalidated
On Monday, the commission organising the National Liberal Party’s (PNL) conference invalidated Viorel Catarama’s candidacy, because his candidacy motion did not receive the endorsement of at least ten party branches, as required by the party statute. Ludovic Orban and Cristian Busoi are left in the race for the PNL leadership.
“Following the vote held at the level of PNL branches, within the Directing Counting Committees, the motions filed by Ludovic Orban (“National Liberal Party – Right-wing Power”) and Cristian Busoi (“PNL – Party of the Future. For a Just, Balanced and Strong Romania!”) have met the statutory conditions to be put up for debate and vote at the PNL party conference on June 17. The motion filed by Viorel Catarama (“National Policy – The Liberal Path”) did not meet the statutory conditions to be put up for debate and vote at the PNL party conference, since it was not validated by the Directing County Committees of at least 10 PNL branches, as per Article 72, Paragraph 1, of the PNL Statute,” reads a communique issued by PNL.
Likewise, the organising commission established, via a draw, the order in which the motions will be presented at the party conference, the first candidate being Cristian Busoi, followed by Ludovic Orban. 60 minutes have been allocated to the presentation of each motion.