How to unite liberals, socialists, nationalists and conservatives…

… and still only get 25% of the vote.

 That, according to provisional results, is all that the ‘Yes’ campaign could muster in its efforts to impeach Romania’s president Traian Basescu.

Whatever else he might be, Basescu is a mighty skillful political operator with a populist touch.  A skilled politician in touch with the populace – well blow me if that doesn’t sound like the sort of person a country like Romania might need to run it.  But unfortunately in the course of his efforts to change the face of Romanian politics he upset too many vested interests.

Basescu was elected narrowly in 2004 at the head of an alliance between his own Democratic Party (now, sadly, affiliated to the EPP) and the Liberals.  A coalition government was formed between the alliance, the Hungarian minority party and the ‘Conservative Party’ (a bunch of chancers who went into the election as ‘The Humanist Party’ in alliance with the Social Democrats – but who jumped ship when the Social Democrats unexpectedly lost). 

Having lost the support of all but his own party, it was inevitable that Parliament would vote against him in the impeachment process.  But ratification was required by a referendum.  In the campaign, the Liberals, Social Democrats (post-Communists), Conservatives, Hungarian Union, and the ultra-nationalist Greater Romania Party ALL campaigned for a yes vote. 

As some commentators have pointed out, Basescu’s stunning victory is just the start of the constitutional crisis – he cannot dismiss the Government (which in more established democracies would resign in the face of such a defeat).  But with Parliament so united against him, it is hard to see how they can work together.  Basescu’s PD and the break-away Liberal Democrats who supported him, must be hugely strengthened as a result of this vote and be chomping at the bit for early Parliamentary elections. 

Fascinating times surely are ahead.  With a worrying cloud on the horizon.  Gica Becali, owner of Steaua Bucharest football club and of his own political party, shrewdly backed Basescu in the referendum campaign.  Polls have shown his party consistently hovvering around the limit for winning seats in parliament.  Frankly, I don’t trust him.  He draws some of his advisers from the (far edge of the) mainstream right.  But he seems to draw more of his own views from populist nationalism.  If Basescu’s allies win the next Parliamentary elections but fall short of a majority, Becali has positioned himself well as a potential coalition partner and I’m not convinced that would make for a more liberal Romania.


8 responses to “How to unite liberals, socialists, nationalists and conservatives…

  1. There’s actually some talk today of the Liberals renouncing government and going into opposition. In this situation the question would be: who can govern? It sets up a nice situation for early parliamentary elections, although it is still hard to dissolve Parliament…

  2. Presumably if the PD formed a government on their own they could trigger a confidence motion that they would lose and then be able to call elections? (PNL and PSD would invite ridicule if they voted with the PD on a confidence motion.)

    My hunch is that if there were elections now, PD-PLD would get up to 40% of the seats allowing theem to form a government with PNG and UDMR. It would likely create a further crisis within PNL who would be left considering opposition alliances with PSD and PRM – not quite what Patriciu had in mind!

  3. You are right to not trust Becali. He is an extremist bigot, who would be a disaster for Romania. I really can’t see UDMR and PNG ending up in the same government (as per your most recent comment). Becali has gone on record with his distaste for Hungarians.

  4. Fair point. Though I wonder whether another consequence of the referendum might be enough of the UDMR’s support switching to the PD to ensure the UDMR fails to cross the threshold.

  5. I can’t see it happening. The block vote is very strong here. The only thing that would take votes from the UDMR is another Hungarian party. Come election time there’s no way that the majority of the Hungarian community will go to the PD, even if 58% of UDMR supporters who voted in the referendum did so against the wishes of the party. Elections are different.

  6. Hi there

    I will very much like to read you views on Romania in general and the current situation in particular. How does it look from a British point of view? Is democracy consolidating or breaking down? Thanks

  7. It’s interesting that most of the foreign (ie not Romanian) commentary that I have read sided strongly with Basescu and criticised the other parties for initiating the impeachment process.

    One of the most important facets of a consolidated democracy is that parties accept electoral defeat and the legitimacy of their opponents as governors. This has been lacking from the ‘narrative of opposition’ in Romania really since 1990. I refer to it in the article I wrote for Sfera Politicii:

    I do think this crisis could transform the party landscape of Romania – it creates a major problem for PNL, UDMR could find itself outside parliament (although I understand Andy H’s views on this), it could see PRM eclipsed on the right by PNG. And through it all PD goes from strength to strength.

  8. I can’t see the Hungarian vote going to any other party that UDMR either. The UCM, an alternate Hungarian organization, does not seem to have the strength to counter the UDMR.

    And while I hope to see some changes in the way politics are played over here I am afraid that some practices are too deeply entrenched.

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