ISSN 2330-717X

Romania: Party Infighting Takes Toll On Democracy

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By Paul Ciocoiu

Mircea Geoana’s dismissal as the Romanian senate speaker last month, amid a severe fight for influence in the opposition’s Social Democratic Party (PSD), raised eyebrows — making many wonder whether short-term interests have precedence over party political values and its relationship with voters.

Analysts say such party struggles show a poor state of political maturity.

“One can easily notice that the heads of the Romanian political parties cannot bear dissident opinions in the party ranks, which they then tend to reduce to silence,” Florin Ciornei, head of the politics department with the Evenimentul Zilei, told SETimes.

“Such conflicts can erode and fragment a party’s electorate, a theory that also clearly applies to Geoana’s case, who was and remains pretty popular,” he added.

Geoana, a former ambassador and minister of foreign affairs, has had a love-hate relationship with the current party head, Victor Ponta, who ran Geoana’s campaign for the presidential elections in 2009. He lost by a narrow margin to Traian Basescu.

Geoana’s failure prompted a party congress in which Ponta was elected to replace Geoana at the party’s helm, triggering the tumultuous relationship between them.

A series of public remarks Geoana made after losing the party chairmanship drew Ponta’s ire, prompting him to discipline the former presidential candidate.

To Victor Ponta, Geoana was doubly risky, according to Ciornei.

“Geoana only seemed an isolated political character. But he was well positioned in the polls and thus could have come up with pretentions for the next presidential elections. Such an option would have imperiled Ponta’s political partner, Liberal Crin Antonescu, with whom he forged an alliance in the opposition. The agreement between the two was that Antonescu would run for the presidency. In this way, not only did Ponta get rid of an internal enemy, but also settled Antonescu’s problem,” Ciornei explained.

In December 2010, Geoana was suspended for six months for alleged statements that harmed the party’s reputation. Among others, Geoana implied on his personal blog that Ponta had ill-advised him during the presidential campaign about a visit he had made to a controversial Romanian businessman a few days before the runoff, which the media unanimously agreed cost Geoana the elections.

During a trip to the United States in October, where Geoana presented himself as the leader of the Romanian opposition, he vowed to run again for the presidency, though the party had shown no support for this.

In late November, Geoana was excluded from the party ranks and then toppled as speaker of the senate. But Ponta’s victory had side effects; the social-democrats lost the chairmanship of the senate to the ruling Liberal-Democrats.

The consequences of such bickering are mainly at the level of electorate.

“The effects of such a situation on Romanian democracy are not major or immediate, but the effects on the voters’ perception concerning the stability of high public offices should not be neglected in the perspective of the next elections,” Liviu Dadacus, political editor with the newswire Mediafax, told SETimes.

“At the same time, the costs for society are difficult to quantify since the relation between the instability of such high public offices and, say, financial markets and foreign loans is not a direct one. But such a relation, be it indirect, should not be again ignored since we are talking about the former second man in the state,” Dadacus added.

He also noted that Geoana’s case has a precedent — Social Democrat Adrian Nastase — who in 2006 during an internal party conflict, resigned as speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, the third most powerful position in the state hierarchy. His alternative then was also removed from the party ranks, Dadacus underlined.

The political show recently staged by PSD left sympathisers with a bitter taste. “What do I understand from this conflict, which ended with Geoana’s removal but also with the loss by PSD of high public dignity? That it is all about short-term personal interests and not the party’s long-term ones,” Ovidiu Damian, a 43-year old teacher, told SETimes.

“I also understand my vote was disregarded, because my vote, among others, gave the party the political right to get that position. It is disappointing that after 21 years of democracy, we still witness such ‘public executions’ in Romanian politics,” he concluded.

SETimes

SETimes

The Southeast European Times Web site is a central source of news and information about Southeastern Europe in ten languages: Albanian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, English, Greek, Macedonian, Romanian, Serbian and Turkish. The Southeast European Times is sponsored by the US European Command, the joint military command responsible for US operations in 52 countries. EUCOM is committed to promoting stability, co-operation and prosperity in the region.

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