Victor Ponta and the Social Liberal Union (USL) have won a series of little battles: Basescu suspended by the vote on July 6 and key government positions secured. But they are at best Pyrrhic victories, they have come at a great cost to their moral and political credibility. Slow moving and cautious as they are, international institutions have slammed the Romanian Government’s actions in the strongest diplomatic language possible. Crucially, the European Commission has joined the chorus of disapproval and there is a very real threat that Romania’s voting rights in the European Parliament will be suspended. Ponta and new interim president Crin Antonescu will now have to determine their next moves in Romania’s power struggle.
For Traian Basescu the next move is clear. He needs to convince the country to back him in the referendum and one of his best arguments is probably the Romanian Constitutional Court. The Basescu camp can, should and probably will try to make a vote for him a vote for the constitution. It reminds of the ‘hold your nose and vote for Jaques Chirac’ campaign, when the much maligned former French President was in a run off against fascist candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 2002 French presidential election. Still, it must be remembered that the stakes are different. Romania is not facing the prospect of a fascist president and it will take a lot of work on Basescu’s part to convince the Romanian electorate to back him. As well as campaigning on the international criticism of the current Romanian Government’s actions, Basescu could use Romania’s economy as a tool to save himself from impeachment. Things might not be great economically, but enough positive figures have cropped up in the last year, so why not take credit for them?
For Ponta, Antonescu and the USL the most pressing job is to at least appear just, democratic and constitutional. Gestures are hugely important in politics, the EU will ask for a concessionary gesture from Romania’s Government and Ponta’s decision to reverse his recent ruling on the statistics institute’s leadership is certainly the right sort of thing. The USL are in power and likely to come out on top in elections, so there is no need to further undermine the opposition by unconstitutional means. It just looks bad. The single greatest gesture the USL could make would be Victor Ponta’s resignation. It’s unlikely to happen, Ponta is riding high and few politicians will leap off the crest of their political waves willingly. But it would be a singularly powerful gesture to make, and, who knows, perhaps Ponta could go for the old scandal, confession, humility, rehabilitation formula. Assuming that he won’t resign, Ponta still needs to make an effort to appear democratic and constitutional.
The EU is demanding answers, the move to suspend Romania’s voting rights in the European Parliament is unprecedented, so it will certainly be interesting to see what happens. Should Ponta and the USL worry overly about the European response? It’s questionable, Hungary has been playing fast and loose with international opinion and Britain habitually ignores/angers the rest of the EU. The Romanian situation may prove to be a test of the sharpness of the EU’s teeth when it comes to punitive measures. Whatever happens, plenty more political drama is in store. So sit back, relax and wait for the next politicians to be hurled from Romania’s Tarpeian Rock.
Liam Lever, firstname.lastname@example.org
photo source: presidency.ro