The Social Democratic Party (PSD) is currently going through a novel moment, a former party president, namely Victor Ponta, openly threatening to form a new political party next autumn, thus following in the footsteps of Geoana, Oprea and even Ion Iliescu, leaders that developed such projects in their own turn.
In Ponta’s case, just like in the case of other Social Democrats who tried to form parties or create political constructs more or less independent from the PSD, history consists of the same details: the loss of internal elections for the position of party president (Iliescu and Geoana’s case), the withdrawal of political endorsement and proposal to have him excluded from the party (Oprea’s case), exclusion from the party (roughly put, Geoana excluded Oprea, Ponta excluded Geoana, Dragnea excluded Ponta).
Ion Iliescu formed the Social Democratic Pole, a left-wing ideological construct meant to include the PSD but which did not turn into a party since Iliescu’s health problems put a stop to that. Geoana created the Romanian Social Party (PSRO), but his party’s rise was blocked by the fact that the Social Democrats remained united around the Government.
In recent history, Gabriel Oprea was the only one who managed to split PSD, founding the National Union for the Progress of Romania (UNPR) and politically aligning it against the PSD. It remains to be seen whether the new party that Victor Ponta has announced will play a role distinct from the PSD or will be a platform he will use against current PSD leader Liviu Dragnea.
In 2006, Ion Iliescu creates the Social Democrat Pole
In 2006, former PSD President Ion Iliescu created, alongside Petre Roman, a left-wing political construct – the Social Democratic Pole – after he lost internal elections to Mircea Geoana in 2005.
Mircea Geoana, PSD President at the time, rejected Iliescu’s Social Democratic Pole idea, since he feared that the initiative sought to create an alternative to PSD.
“Unfortunately, either someone had a small secret plan or we fell into the trap of media speculations. The impression has been created that a certain political project might be hiding here, a certain masked form to come up with something else, as an alternative to PSD, which is political nonsense and a political mistake on the part of those who are thinking about this,” Geoana opined at that moment, in a talk-show on ProTV.
In 2006, Ion Iliescu started a forceful political action, traveling the country, having talks with left-wing academics and holding joint press conferences with Petre Roman, with the stated goal of coalescing the Romanian left wing under the title of Social Democratic Pole, this large political construct being set to include PSD too.
Because of health problems but also of the negative feedback he received from inside PSD – regarding the splitting of the party he had created –, Iliescu gradually gave up on this project, which died out by itself.
In 2010, Gabriel Oprea founds UNPR, breaking a part of PSD
Unlike Iliescu, Gabriel Oprea broke away with a part of PSD’s MPs, forming with them the National Union for the Progress of Romania (UNPR), in 2010.
The new political party brought together the “independent” lawmakers that had left their parties, and backed the PD-L Government and Traian Basescu, at the expense of the PSD, which remained in the Opposition.
Oprea split PSD because of internal disputes that occurred between him on one hand and PSD President Mircea Geoana and the PSD leadership on the other hand.
In 2009, while he was PSD’s Interior Minister in the PSD – PD-L coalition Government, dissatisfactions appeared within PSD in regard to the appointment of some secretaries of state within the Interior Ministry, Oprea being reproached with not consulting the party’s leadership.
Geoana convened the party’s National Standing Bureau and proposed that the political endorsement for Oprea be withdrawn. Oprea resigned from his office as Interior Minister and from his office as PSD Ilfov President.
Subsequently, Oprea brought together a group of “independent” lawmakers from all parties, who formed UNPR. The new party then played an important political role, through the support it gave to Traian Basescu and his governments.
Geoana creates the ‘Our Romania’ movement and a new party – PSRO
In 2011, new PSD President Victor Ponta, assisted by Liviu Dragnea, the party’s “number two man” back then, obtained the National Executive Committee’s political approval to exclude former PSD President Mircea Geoana.
Back then, Geoana complained of an “execution” planned by Ponta. “It was an announced decision. Ponta tabled his resignation, blackmailing his colleagues. For the past two weeks, Ponta and his acolytes have been talking nonsense about so-called accusations levelled against me. Only today were they able to come up with a document, after the masquerade at the integrity committee,” Geoana stated.
A year later, in 2012, Geoana launched the ‘Our Romania’ movement, saying “it is more than an NGO” and “less than a political party,” pointing out however that a political “arm” can be developed and can back candidates in the elections.
Subsequently, Geoana launched the Romanian Social Party (PSRO). This new political party, defined also as left-wing, did not however register the expected growth, since the Social Democrats remained united around the Government.
Ponta also launches a foundation, on Black Sea issues
After he lost the presidential elections, just like Geoana, it was Ponta’s turn to form a foundation: Black Sea Regional Projects 2020.
The press speculated that this foundation could be a platform that Ponta could use to split the PSD, given the support he enjoyed among the Social Democrats who were members of his Cabinet.
Moreover, during the general elections of 2016, Ponta flirted with the United Romania Party whose member his friend Sebastian Ghita was. Ponta supported this party and its candidates, at a declarative level, even though he was still a PSD member.
In 2017, the animosity between Ponta and new PSD leader Liviu Dragnea became notorious. It culminated with a coup against Dragnea, carried out during the Government crisis, when Premier Sorin Grindeanu refused to resign after Dragnea withdrew the party’s political support for him.
Ponta publicly allied with Grindeanu, even backing him at the Government, where he was appointed Secretary General. Nevertheless, Ponta did not manage to obtain the necessary number of PSD votes for the no-confidence motion tabled by PSD against its own Government to fail, nor did he manage to coalesce within the party a critical mass that would have led to Dragnea’s ousting.
As a result of his decision to support Grindeanu, Ponta was excluded from PSD. He has publicly pointed out that he wants to set up a new party next autumn, one that would attract those voters who are disappointed with the way Dragnea is currently leading the party.
Both ex-Premier Sorin Grindeanu, also excluded from PSD, and MEP Catalin Ivan – excluded from the party according to PSD’s leadership, an assertion he denies – have pointed out they are currently working on “projects” within PSD. It remains to be seen if and how all of these projects will take shape next autumn.