Last week the political crisis in Romania truly escalated. A few weeks ago I posted a general introduction on the nature of politics in Romania and the fight between President Basescu and PM Tariceanu.
Now, President Basescu is suspended from office and there will be a referendum on May 19 (unusual for elections: a Saturday AND the day of Saint Patriciu …), the political elite is deeply split, demonstrations in favour of Basescu took place, a parliamentary coalition without any mandate is in power and politicians already want to change the Romanian constitution to prevent Basescu from becoming president again, leaving the country with a interim president and interim MEPs (due to the indefinetly postponed EP elections) …. So what happened in Romanian politics? Everything is quite messy (as usual), so let’s make some sense out of it. Here is a little blog/commentary roundup:
Vladimir Tismaneu and Paul Dragos Aligica call it a Parliamentary Putsch:
The frivolous impeachment procedure is payback for Mr. Basescu’s unremitting fight against corruption and his support for transparency in dealing with the secret police archives from Romania’s dark, totalitarian times. When the president last year called the former communist regime “illegitimate and criminal,” he made himself many enemies among the old nomenklatura.
Andrei Plesu, a former Romanian foreign minister and well known writer and former Basescu advisor also lashes out at the parliament:
One can say without exaggeration that in all the years of its fragile democracy our country has been led by faceless voting robots who wave their hands between naps while the demagogues keep talking.
Valentina Pop comments on Romania’s backlash to kleptocracy:
The new political configuration around liberal prime minister Calin Tariceanu is using and abusing every possible democratic tool for its undemocratic goals: delaying the European elections for fear of facing the voters, an impeachment procedure against president Traian Basescu based on no constitutional grounds and a cabinet reshuffle to get rid of performing ministers thought to be “too close to the President”.
For the newly installed “Black Coalition” – the one Romanian voters never approved – the stakes are great. The four “Black Coalition” parties – Liberals, Socialists, the ethnic Hungarian UDMR party and the small Conservative Party of former communist secret police agent and media owner Dan Voiculescu – are trying to defend the very privileges and impunity they have been used to so far.
The European Commission seems to have predicted something like this when it constantly called for “continued reforms that are irreversible.”Four months after Romanian accession, it is clear that not even the post-accession monitoring mechanisms imposed by Brussels and the threat of safeguard clauses are real means of pressure for the Romanian politicians.
And she comes to a rather worrying conclusion:
Romania’s return to kleptocracy will be devastating for its citizens and business environment. But ultimately, Romania’s backlash will prove that EU’s “soft powers” are sometimes too soft. This is particularly so when facing old guard communists with decades of experience in cooking the books, corruption and promises that are never fulfilled.
Jon Worth also thinks about the role of the EU:
In the meantime the EU looks on quite helplessly. Barroso and others have stated that Romania needs to get the crisis sorted out using its own methods, but the European Parliament elections in Romania have been postponed in order to achieve a national solution. Plus with pressure being increasingly applied to Basescu, and government ministers talking a much more anti-EU rhetoric, the situation for Brussels is not easy. If the EU was to trigger the safeguard clauses that accompanied Romanian accession, would that actually help? On the other hand, with equally shaky politics in Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, would a tough message to Romania from the EU not just look like hypocrisy?
The nEUrosis has an excellent overview focusing on the legitimacy of the whole suspension procedure:
A democracy is based on a clear separation of powers, all of whom bear the same degree of independence. When any of these over-rules the decision taken by another, the premises of democracy are severely affected. When a Parliament dominated by anti-presidential forces decides to over-rule a constitutional advice provided by the highest constitutional authority in the country and assumes constitutional powers the most immediate question is: in which sort of democracy are we living?
Gérard Delaloye, a historian and journalist, thinks that the Romanian constitution should be changed:
The Romanian political class … cannot be spared a drastic revision of the Constitution without plunging the country into anarchy or dictatorship. Furthermore, the current crisis also rests on the exorbitant power of members of parliament, deputies and senators. The electoral system, directly inspired by the communist regime is based on a list ballot of proportional representation where the elected representatives are chosen by the parties, not the voters. Thus, over fifteen years, a parliamentary autocracy has been created which serves its own interests when it is not obsequiously pandering to those of the oligarchs, its backers.
Cristina Viehmann looks at the underlying reasons of the crisis that do not only stem from the personal fight between Tariceanu and Basescu:
But there may be other reasons as well. The president’s reforms were undeniably aimed against the interests of many politicians, many of them belonging to the Social Democrat Party (PSD), which ruled Romania from 1990 until 1996 and again from 2000 to 2004. (…) For many, the PSD symbolizes what Romania was unable to deal with after 1989 – its communist past.
Regarding the anticipated outcome of the referendum she is rather sceptical:
According to opinion polls, Basescu is backed by 50 percent of the electorate and is therefore very likely to win and return to office. But once in power, he will find himself immobilized by the parliament.
However, EurActiv speculates about new parliamentary elections later this year while The nEUrosis sees a light at the end of the tunnel:
The entire political scene might not settle after the referendum in May, but at least one issue could become clearer: president Basescu and the strong reforms advocated by him and his supporters show the right way for Romania, not the economic interests or behind-the-scene political games of those for whom the reform of the Romanian institutions and society exists in theory, but not in practice.
But even new presidential elections would be difficult to win for Basescu according to Catalin Dimofte who sees a certain mood of apathy among voters:
In the end, the assumption of many political analysts that Basescu will easily win early presidential elections may turn out to be false. It relies on a single risky belief, which is that his opponents will not be able to come up with a credible candidate of their own.
….. to be continued…..