Category Archives: Traian Basescu

From Calin to Crin…

antonescuCrin Antonescu is the new leader of the Romanian National Liberal Party (PNL).  He defeated the incumbent Calin Popescu Tariceanu comfortably enough at the party’s congress today.  He won 873 votes to Tariceanu’s 546.

Antonescu is an interesting character.  He joined the National Liberals in the early 1990s.  A former leader of the PNL parliamentary group he has been something of a back-room boy in the party and has been accused of lacking charisma.  He has an interesting family story

Tariceanu was Prime Minister, leading a minority PNL government, until elections last November.  Now the National Liberals are effectively the only national opposition party after the largest parties on the left and right formed a coalition government.  Tariceanu was originally associated with neo-liberal factions in the party and has long been associated with oil magnate Dinu Patriciu.  Inevitably Tariceanu’s defeat will raise questions about Patriciu’s future relations with the party although Tariceanu himself has already wished Antonescu well in a show of solidarity.

The first big question will be how the result will affect the PNLs choice of candidates for the European Parliament elections in June.  There will no doubt be plenty of people looking for reward for their support in the leadership election – and others who fear the consequences of backing the wrong horse.  The National Liberals should be able to win at least 7 seats in the elections.

Then, of course, there will be the pretty thankless task of taking on President Basescu in the presidential elections this autumn.  Ne vedem!

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Everything changes, everything stays the same…

You turn your back for 10 minutes and a whole bunch of new parties appear in Romania.

Arrived in Bucharest in the middle of the local elections to discover the Popular Christian Social Union (they almost got all the bases covered there with the name 😉 and the Civic Force Party as the newest kids on the block.  The former seems to be vaguely left of centre (their leader is a former Social Democrat, their Bucharest mayoral candidate is ex National Salvation Front and ex Democrat party), the latter a splinter from the Greater Romania Party. 

Also surprised to see Adrian Mutu (a footballer, for the uninitiated) endorsing Cosmin Gusa of the National Initiative Party (amused that Gusa flew out to Italy for the meeting rather than the other way round though) and to see Sorin Oprescu running as an independent – last I heard, Oprescu was a senior Social Democrat. 

Everyone is running ‘against the government’ – cohabitation helps because everyone has someone else to blame.  The National Liberal campaign in Bucharest seems to be well funded but they bought lots of advertising space last November and still got trampled on by the Democrats.

Anyway, if you are interested and if you can read Romanian (or Latin or Italian – you’ll work it out), I recommend:  www.alegeri.tv which I have just discovered.

EPERN report on Romanian Presidential Impeachment Referendum

I’m off to Bucaharest for a few days next month for the climax of their European Parliament elections.

 But, in the meantime, the European Parties, Elections and Referendums Network has published my report on the impeachment referendum held earlier this year.  If you like that sort of thing you can find it here.

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.

Liberal dirty tricks shock

“Hampshire Labour News” had nothing on this report about campaign tactics in Romania’s presidential impeachment referendum: 

An SMS with PD leader Emil Boc as alleged sender was received on journalists’ phones over the weekend. “Basescu sees himself back in Cotroceni. Power has taken his reason. On May 19, show him you don’t want any more dictators. Vote YES. Emil Boc.” The PD leader reacted immediately, particularly since he is known as a pro-Basescu activist. “I will notify the Prosecutor’s Office on this SMS.” The Liberals denied any involvement in the affair.

Moreover, the Liberals believe that the use of Basescu’s image on posters with an anti-Basescu message is absolutely legal, as long as the President’s image is not registered. The Liberals designed their anti-Basescu campaign around posters displaying the image of the Head of State, with the message “Power has damaged his brain. Vote YES.”

(The National Liberal Party – sister party of Britain’s Lib Dems and until recently a coalition partner of Basescu’s PD – is campaigning for the president’s impeachment.  Supporters of Basescu should be voting NO in the referendum to oppose impeachment)

A second Romanian revolution?

Anyone who has not been following political events in Romania should read this.  Gallagher over-eggs the pudding a bit in suggesting the impeachment of the president could undermine the whole of the EU but the threat to the development of Romanian democracy is real.  And the most shocking fact is that the threat is being led by the country’s nominally Liberal Prime Minister.

Now, stories such as this are always murky and confused.  Basescu is a former Communist and a shameless populist and he and Tariceanu shared a platform to win the elections of 2004 in dramatic fashion.  But his  determination to modernise and clean up the nations political structures appears genuine – both from his time as president and as mayor of Bucharest.

 Tariceanu’s links to oil barrons might be over-played and there are clearly many committed democrats and modernisers in his party. 

But it is evident that President Basescu has upset many in the establishment with his hands-on approach to reform.  I was living in Bucharest at the time of his election as mayor in 2000 and witnessed the enthusiasm he was able to generate, especially among young voters, with his determination to sweep away the corruption that was holding back the city.

The Liberals have split with one faction led by respected former Prime Minister Teodor Stolojan alligning with Basescu (again not a simple story – Stolojan was promised a return to the premiership in return for backing Basescu as Presidential candidate but Tariceanu refused to play the game).  It’s also intersting how the country’s liberal elite is torn over the issue.  Many of them couldn’t quite fathom Basescu:  “He’s a sneaky b*stard,” they would imply, “but at least he is our b*stard”.  Now, many of them are reacting in horror to recent events and are being pulled further away from the president.

The referendum will be fascinating and complex.  I hope that the Romanian people back reform, liberalism and progress.