Mulțumesc lui Lilick Auftakt pentru semnalarea acestui interesant text de analiză și a principalelor sale concluzii. Mi s-a părut atît de interesant încît l-am reprodus integral de pe blogul d-lui Borbath Endre, http://borbathendre.ro/?p=52
Political games distract minds from economy
March 8, 2010
The ruling Democratic Liberals submitted a motion to oust Mircea Geoana as speaker of the Senate on March 4.
Geoana, who has already lost his position as head of the opposition Social Democrats, is fighting for his political life. The motion is another step in President Traian Basescu’s long-term goal of consolidating his personal power at the expense of all political parties.
When Traian Basescu won a second term of office last December, he promised to be a “different president” (see ROMANIA: Economic jam may force cross-party alliances – December 9, 2009). At the time, the pledge was understood to mean that Basescu — famous for his abrasiveness and confrontational politics — would seek to rule by consensus. The promise made good political sense:
- Since the constitution bars Basescu from seeking re-election in 2014 when his current mandate expires, he can afford to be magnanimous.
- Since his December re-election was by the tiniest of majorities (50.33% of votes cast), Basescu had additional reasons to adopt a more inclusive approach.
However, it is now clear that Basescu’s pledge of being different amounts to a change of tactics, rather than long-term aims.
Basescu’s first term. When he first won office in 2004, Basescu’s main objective was to dismantle the power base of the Social Democrats (PSD) who, as heirs of the old communist elite, ruled Romania for much of the post-communist period. This entailed an alliance between Basescu’s own Democratic Party (PD) and the National Liberal Party (PNL), a centrist formation whose origins date back to Romania’s 19th century politics.
For a time, the coalition held firm, because it cast itself as fighting against Romania’s legendary corruption and nepotism. However, Basescu is not a natural conciliator. He spent most of his time trying to absorb the PNL into the PD and, when this failed, he clashed with Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, the PNL leader who served as prime minister. The ‘guerrilla warfare’ between the two paralysed Romania, resulting in Basescu’s impeachment. Although Basescu was ultimately reinstated by a national referendum, he limped to the end of his first presidential term without a functioning government.
Basescu has drawn lessons from his mistakes. Yet there are no indications that he is about to change his vision, which, although never articulated in a comprehensive manner, is clear enough. The main ingredients of the ‘Basescu project’ are:
- the creation of a political system in which the president is the only important player;
- reducing parliament to the role of an enabler of presidential powers; and
- replacing the old oligarchs with former communist links with rich businessmen pliant to his authority.
Next steps. The moves that Basescu has undertaken since his December re-election indicate that this project is now being pursued with vigour:
- Constitutional reform. The constitution is widely admitted to be seriously flawed. The division of powers between parliament’s two chambers — the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies — is still unclear, despite a constitutional amendment introduced in 2003. Basescu’s solution is outright abolition of the Senate and reducing the seats in the Chamber of Deputies. In a referendum held last year, the electorate approved the president’s proposals. However, its results are not binding; parliament now has to enact constitutional reforms. Basescu is trying to unseat Mircea Geoana as Senate speaker in the hope of speeding his project along, despite the fact that a majority of legislators are still against his proposals.
- Electoral reform. The president had already successfully introduced a reform of the electoral system, doing away with an arrangement whereby deputies were elected by proportional representation from party lists, and replacing it with a first-past-the-post system of constituencies similar to the United Kingdom’s. In theory, this strengthens legislators’ personal accountability, but it also leaves deputies less beholden to party discipline.
- Promoting party break-ups. Basescu has realised that his previously preferred method of sponsoring the merger of other political forces into his own party is no longer likely to work. The PSD opposition has just elected Victor Ponta, a young politician with no corrupt links, as its new leader; the party’s popularity stands at 32% according to recent opinion polls, a jump of 6 percentage points in two weeks. The PNL is also steadfast in its opposition to the president.
- Splitting opposition. Instead, Basescu is now concentrating on promoting splits among his opponents. Late last month, a group of senators and deputies belonging to the opposition PSD suddenly declared themselves independents; they are about to form a new, supposedly left-wing formation, to be led by Defence Minister Gabriel Oprea, who has been groomed for this role by the president. The potential removal of Geoana, who stood against Basescu in the presidential election, is also intended to promote further splits among the ranks of the opposition.
Basescu’s goal is clear: he wants to obtain a two-thirds majority in parliament. This would allow him to amend the country’s constitution, emasculate the legislature and ensure that he continues to exercise power after leaving office. Speculation that Basescu may seek to remove the constitutional bar on presidents serving more than two consecutive terms is probably exaggerated: he is aware that promoting such an amendment would provoke an outcry.
Nevertheless, Basescu is probably attracted by the ‘Putin model’ in Russia: the creation of a political movement which dwarfs all others and ensures that he continues to rule behind the scenes.
Outlook . However, success is unlikely:
- Political volatility. Although the country’s opposition parties are dispirited, power remains too dispersed. Basescu’s opponents are also resourceful.Teodor Melescanu, a former foreign minister and PSD member, has just announced that he wishes to fill a vacancy on the country’s Constitutional Court, which is appointed by parliament. This is an indication that the constitutional games that Basescu is playing can also be played against him.
- Economic woes. While the political battle continues, the economy continues to suffer (see ROMANIA: Crisis reveals weak basis for recent growth – October 14, 2009). GDP fell by 7.1% in 2009, and government debt is rising fast: it grew by 33.0% last year alone. To make matters worse, most of this debt is short-term. Over the weekend, Basescu publicly raised the possibility that Romania might seek a fresh loan, on top of the 20 billion euro (27 billion dollar) credit line provided by the IMF and the EU. This was swiftly denied by the Romanian government. Nonetheless, an estimated 30 billion euros of debt must be repaid by the year-end, and tax receipts cannot cover the anticipated shortfall. Therefore, it is highly likely that the economy will soon return to centre stage of Romania’s political life.
The current focus of discussion in Bucharest is the president’s health: he is rumoured to be ailing. That, in itself, is an indication of how personalised Romania’s politics have become. Still, the Basescu political project is likely to prove ephemeral, and by distracting the policy-making elite from crucial economic challenges, will further delay Romania’s stunted return to growth.