Cablegate: Romania: Political Players Ready to Throw the Dice

Published: Fri 21 Sep 2007 04:14 PM
DE RUEHBM #1096/01 2641614
P 211614Z SEP 07
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/20/2017
Classified By: Cda a.i.Mark Taplin, reasons 1.4 (b) & (f)
1. (C) Summary. As Bucharest summer has given way to fall, so too has the political lethargy of July and August been replaced in recent weeks by sharpened conflict and stormy negotiations among the leading players. The main opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD), the largest in parliament, finally appears poised to introduce a motion of no-confidence against the government of PM Calin Popescu-Tariceanu on September 24. The PSD Executive Committee took this step following weeks of internal uncertainty that included active discussion of removing PSD president Mircea Geoana from his position. Separately, Parliament rejected two emergency ordinances from last April that had provided the legal framework for Tariceanu,s reshuffling of the government and removal of President Basescu's Democratic Party (PD) allies. One of the few points our interlocutors agree on is that no one really knows how the dice will land in the wake of Geoana's latest political improvisations, and the efforts of his many antagonists inside and outside the PSD to frustrate his plans. While every imaginable scenario is still in play at this writing, it is just possible that we are witnessing the last weeks of the current National Liberal Party-led government. As one Basescu advisor told us, "There are still so many unresolved questions - but also real hope" for bringing down the PM and his cohort. End Summary.
2. (C) At a September 19 gathering in Bucharest of the executive committee of the main opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD), the party's top national and regional leaders voted to introduce a motion of no confidence against the Tariceanu government on Monday, September 24. The decision followed delays and staunch opposition from within the PSD from old-guard lions like former President Ion Iliescu and former PM Adrian Nastase. The pro-Presidential Democratic Party (PD) and the Liberal Democratic Party (PLD) have already announced they would support a censure motion. Were the PD and PLD, alongside the full contingent of the PSD and its allies, to turn out in favor of the no-confidence resolution, the votes would be there to turn PM Tariceanu and his Liberal government out of office.
3. (C) Yet, as is usually the case hereabouts, things are not so simple. Some PSD leaders, while exasperated with the current "concubinage" informally backing Tariceanu, while on paper remaining in opposition, are still hoping their vote to table a censure motion would persuade the PNL to bring the PSD into the government. The PM, along with his fellow Liberals, has made it clear they would not relish being the junior partner in any such arrangement, and has repeatedly rejected the PSD,s overtures - at least in public. Meanwhile, PSD president Mircea Geoana on September 18 met with President Traian Basescu, although both acknowledged publicly that following day that they had done so. One PSD Executive Secretary told PolOffs that the discussion included consideration of the prospect for a PD-PSD-UDMR unity8 government. Under this scenario, the PSD would seek control over the Foreign Affairs, Justice, Finance, Labor, Agriculture and Environment portfolios. Alternatively, others in the PSD argued that they would be satisfied remaining in the opposition assuming that Basescu asked the PD to form a minority government. In contrast, PD President Emil Boc publicly rejected the notion of a deal with PSD, insisting on the party forming a government only after national elections.
4. (C) Prospects for Geoana to seize the reins of the government at this time are poor; in fact, he is clinging hard to the back of the tiger in trying to outmaneuver his rivals within his own party. PSD Deputy Victor Ponta described for Poloffs on September 17 a PSD party that was paralyzed by factional infighting. One group, led by the older generation (Hrebenciuc, Nastase, and Iliescu) would love to remove Geoana from the party leadership. The Geoana group is intent on getting into power regardless of the collateral damage. A third faction, by Ponta's account, represents those interested in reform, stability and rebuilding the PSD away from personalities; it is frustrated by the business as usual attitude among the warring party chieftains. Ponta lamented the fact that there was no single personality within the PSD who could replace Geoana through consensus.
5. (C) If the apparent chaos within the Social Democratic ranks were not already enough, the schism between PSD and PNL widened significantly on September 18, when PSD and other parliamentarians rejected two emergency ordinances issued in April 2007 that provided the legal framework for the reorganization of the Tariceanu government last April, following the removal of the pro-Basescu PD ministers. At least in theory, the Tariceanu government would thereby be compelled to return to the structure it had at the moment of accession to the European Union. The Parliament's rejection of the two ordinances is without precedent and took the government by surprise. Until the rejection of the emergency ordinances is formally published in the Official Gazette, no decision on the way ahead will be taken. The Liberals announced September 19 that they would consider seeking the arbitration of the Constitutional Court on this issue. Of course, the point could be moot if the Tariceanu government is brought down in the coming days, although any new government should be formed on the structure pre-dating the April rearrangement.
6. (C) At week's end, what little was clear was that there would be enough signatures to submit the motion in Parliament, most likely on September 24. PSD spokesperson and Senator Cristian Diaconescu told us on September 21 that his party and Basescu's Democrats would definitely not officially co-habitate. He pointed towards potential realignments between the Liberals and Democrats - revisiting the original 2004 electoral alliance - or (more likely, we believe) among Social Democrats and Liberals. Nor was a "unity" government of technocrats ruled out. Later in the same conversation, Diaconescu said he foresaw "one party government." "Only I'm not sure which one," he exclaimed. Another active ingredient in this stew was President Basescu, whom Diaconescu reported would call together party leaders, in his role as constitutional guarantor, for "official" political consultations during what will be a very lively period of negotiations between the time a motion of no-confidence is filed and when a vote is actually taken - a period that Diaconescu estimated would be up to eight days. Diaconescu spoke positively of Basescu's approach in his now widely publicized meeting with Geoana. Basescu, he stated, did not want another minority government. Rather, the President was looking to form as stable a governmental configuration to replace "Tariceanu-2" as possible, even if it were "time-limited" until scheduled elections in June, 2008.
7. (C) National Security Advisor and former PD parliamentarian Mihai Stanisoara was nearly as contradictory on September 21 in sizing up in advance the following week's political drama. "What is sure," he commented, "is that the motion will be placed" on the parliamentary calendar. The question after would be, "who will win the fight between Geoana and (PSD old guard political strategist Viorel) Hrebenciuc?" There was "a real chance for change," he stressed, even as he acknowledged that many "unsolved" questions remained. "But there is also a big hope," he quickly added. On the other hand, Bucharest Mayor and PD bigwig Adrian Videanu sounded more assured in a September 21 phone conversation with Charge. His view was that the vote of no-confidence would pass, and that his party would take the reins of power. "The PSD can't continue this way," he insisted, "drifting not in opposition, not in power." There were common interests, Videanu explained, between his Democrats (including Stolojan's Liberal Democrats) and the PSD. But a formal arrangement of power-sharing could only take place after elections, probably in June next year. Meanwhile, the PD had concluded that, "for the sake of the President," it would need to lead a government in the interim, even at the loss of some percentage of its current commanding forty percent support in the polls, because Basescu's political credibility would be compromised were he to choose a Social Democrat for a PM. In the end, Videanu concluded, the President's popularity would be the decisive political factor for PD electoral success in the years ahead, so it had to be protected "at all costs."
8. (C) Comment. While Geoana may well be able to make good the threat to bring down the PNL government, everything that would follow would still be up for grabs. The PSD's wily Hrebenciuc, for instance, should not be underestimated; he and Liberal Party conspirators like Chamber of Deputies President Bogdan Olteanu have been busy in the corridors of power trying to forge a more formal Liberal-Social Democratic alliance - a goal that for most of the summer looked to be the most likely combination to emerge from behind the curtain. Meanwhile, Basescu is where he wants to be politically, with Tariceanu,s government more vulnerable than ever, and the deeply split PSD out on a political limb. One Romanian proverb may be especially suited to the political drama ahead: "The wheel of fortune never stops." End comment
View as: DESKTOP | MOBILE © Scoop Media