Vol 2, No 8
28 February 2000
M I O R I Ţ A:
The precarious nature of Romanian transitional politics became ever more apparent last week during the Democratic Party (PD) Convention. Foreign Minister Petre Roman saw an unprecedented surge of support for his party manifesto leaving those opposed fighting for their political careers. In the race for electoral success party rivalries emerged heralding the onset of parliamentary chaos.
Out of 925 people attending the Democratic Party Convention only seven voted against Roman's manifesto: Defence Minister, Victor Babiuc; the head of the commission overseeing the activity of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SIE), George Serban; the head of the commission overseeing the activity of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), Liviu Spataru; Adrian Severin; Adrian Vilau; Radu F Alexandru; and Octavin Stireanu. Gradually, as many of their questions remained unanswered and the response from their fellow voters became negative, each of the seven opponents quit the party one by one.
An overwhelming majority of 98 per cent voted for Roman's manifesto. Such support and influence has not been witnessed since the Ceauşescu era. The methods applied to isolate the opposing members also has hints of previous political tactics. Although Petre Roman holds much support within the PD it has become clear that not everyone is happy. However, Roman has created for himself an image that is strong and powerful, almost akin to cult of personality. In this sense, a comparison with Ceauşescu can be made. Roman's sphere of influence and his role as foreign minister has placed him in very strong position to reassert his own popularity and be seen to further Romanian aims to join the European Union. The PD Convention underlined the strength of Roman's character. The fact that few spoke out could mean he does have overwhelming support but the treatment and consequent departure of Babiuc and his colleagues implies an element of fear. Babiuc was unable to oppose Roman without being forced to leave the party.
Although a comparison can be made with the figure of Ceauşescu, Petre Roman is markedly different. The PD conference sparked off temporary parliamentary stagnation. Babiuc, Serban and Spataru all hold key positions within the government and parliament. Their departure from the PD and consequently the ruling coalition, brought calls from the PD for their resignation from their official posts. They have refused to leave without being dismissed by the Prime Minister, Isărescu. So far, Isărescu has done nothing. As a result the PD brought the parliamentary session to stalemate. PD MPs walked out of the session delaying the voting of the board members of the council examining former Securitate records. The action was caused by the parliamentary hesitation to replace Babiuc and his colleagues.
The crisis saw a backlash of insults and criticism. Vice Preident of the PD, Traian Basescu, harshly criticised Emil Constantinescu arguing that Constantinescu's limited involvement interfered with PD internal affairs because it helped Babiuc keep his ministerial post although he is no longer a PD or coalition member. Constantinescu's spokesman Rasvan Popescu said that the President had not received a resignation from Babiuc nor any demand for his resignation from Isărescu. Therefore Babiuc would keep his post. However, it is though that Babiuc will be asked to resign if Basescu officially apologises to the President. Basescu also inflicted his criticism upon the National Liberal Party (PNL), Babiuc's new party. Vice President of the PNL, Andrei Chiliman, responded by saying: "The replacement of a minister is not up to the parliament as it is a decision to be taken under an agreement between the coalition leaders and the ministers." (EvZ, 22 February 2000)
The response of PD members indicates the level of control that Roman actually holds over his party members. The actions of Basescu could be considered foolhardy and unnecessary. Constantinescu was following the regulations outlined by the constitution and Basescu was mistaken in criticising him in such a manner. Petre Roman did little to prevent the situation. In this sense Roman is distinct from Ceauşescu. His dominance and influence only stretches so far whereas the dominance of Ceauşescu was all encompassing.
Petre Roman and the PD are losing support in the opinion polls in the run-up to the general election set to be held in November. As the second largest partner in the ruling coalition they are considered partly responsible for the falling living standards and economic frustrations. The PD convention attempted to portray the PD and Roman in a positive light to regain support that has shifted towards Ion Iliescu's Party of Social Democracy (PDSR). Roman's manifesto pledged to pursue tough reforms and to encourage economic growth in order to achieve EU membership by 2007. The language he used in his speech evoked an image of a party united as he was met with cheers of support from the delegates. "Confidence in everybody - Opportunities for each other." (Petre Roman, Nine O'clock, 24 February 2000). To some degree Roman succeeded. However, the image of unity was undermined by the parliamentary disruption transgressing into confusion and disorganisation.
The PD convention and its aftermath have displayed certain contradictions within the Party itself: unity and disunity; organisation and disorganisation; confusion and certainty. The Party were supposedly united in their support of Roman and his manifesto which was organised precisely and with the certainty that the PD could take Romania into the European Union. However, disunity became apparent when Babiuc and his six colleagues departed from the party and the ensuing parliamentary disruption which signified a lack of organisation and confusion. With general elections due in November the image of unity portrayed by Roman could be the PDs own worst enemy.
Catherine Lovatt, 24 February 2000
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