Comment: Are we listening?

Over the summer we saw how much a theater of the negative Romanian politics is, culminating in the dismal invalidity of the impeachment referendum.

Having invested, by his own admission, 70 percent of his time as Prime Minister of the country in the power struggle with Mr Basescu, Mr Ponta failed even to persuade more than 50 percent  of the Romanian electorate to come out to vote in the referendum. Looking at the voting figures, only superficially, it appears that the combined forces of Social Democratic Party (PSD) and Liberal Party (PNL) can count only on something slightly above 40 percent  support in the country but even that figure is very optimistic. Most of the people I spoke to who voted ‘Yes’ in the referendum did so because of their extreme dislike of Mr Basescu rather than a belief that USL and their leaders offered a clear way forward in a post-Basescu Romania.

This is not good news for the USL going forward to the Parliamentary elections on December 9.

The impeachment referendum was characterized by the political opportunities that were missed by both sides. Apart from offering a wide and interesting range of personal insults aimed at Mr Basescu, including the famous scorpion jibe, Mr Ponta refused to provide a positive narrative for his government, its working relationship with a new Head of State (Mr Antonescu) and the country going forward beyond the coming crucial Parliamentary elections. Mr Ponta’s message was that Mr Basescu is a liar and a dictator and that many of Romania’s civic institutions could not be trusted and should be resisted, period.

Mr Antonescu, during his time as interim President, clearly failed to convince many people that he was, or may ever be, a credible occupant of the Cotroceni Palace. This must be of great concern to him and his supporters as we approach, with some uncertainty, the next presidential elections. It may indeed be that Mr Antonescu does not really want to become President, we shall see. However apart from attacking José Manuel Barosso, President of the European Commission from whom Romania hopes to receive billions of euros in development funding, Mr Antonescu’s message was that Mr Basescu is a liar and a dictator, period.

Mr Basescu failed to offer a vision of how he plans to work with a USL government, he could not show the Romanian people how he would renovate his presidency in light of the new political reality in the country. His message was that Mr Ponta and Mr Antonescu are liars who had mounted a coup that could lead to violent unrest. His strategy was to undermine the credibility of the government and in this he worked very closely with his opponents to further reduce the reputation of Romania, its people and its institutions at home and overseas.

In the referendum’s aftermath, Mr Ponta has had to publicly state his regret about statements he made concerning the Chancellor of Germany, Mrs Angela Merkel. Mr Antonescu has apologized to his party for the summer’s debacle and has claimed that he was never really in favor of impeaching the President in the first place. Mr Basescu has seemed prepared to see his reputation, as the defender of Romanian judicial independence, destroyed as we have watched the country’s richest man and a former prime minister acquitted of serious charges within two days of Mr Basescu’s reinstatement.

How quickly the summer circus turned from fiasco to disgrace.

The referendum was a case study in negative campaigning and the results are, of course, entirely negative. Romania is overwhelmingly a country in which people discuss their politics in utter despair. They watch as more and more of their politicians and public officials join the long queue to be investigated and prosecuted by the National Anti Corruption Directorate (DNA ). Every day they read about or watch a new scandal unfold on TV. The country’s politics completely lacks any form of positive narrative and that means that fewer and fewer Romanians will bother to listen to their political leaders; because there is actually nothing to listen to.

With the general election coming in December, can Mr Ponta stop playing games and actually talk straight to the people and offer them a clear vision of what he and his government can achieve if they are finally given a popular mandate? Can Mr Antonescu acquire and then provide a convincing picture of what his role is and will be in a USL government. Can he actually use his current position as President of the Senate as a platform from which to reinvent himself as a force for good? Can Mr Basescu turn himself into a real head of state in his final two years in office? Can he too stop playing games and find ways of helping the government take the country forward?

And, perhaps the biggest question over the next three months is can Mr Blaga, Mr Ungureanu and their colleagues in the Right Romania Alliance (RRA) take steps to change the game and present public policy positions designed to develop Romania’s economy through sustainable growth? If they do this then the USL will have to respond and we can begin to see true political debate emerge from the ashes of the summer.

However, it is not a development that is guaranteed, in spite of Mr Ungureanu’s calm and intelligent performances on TV so far. RRA mostly comprises ‘old school’ politicians who may have no wish, or see no reason, to understand the political crisis that now grips the country. But the urgent need to change Romanian politics from negative to positive will not recede. In the final analysis, the people who can build the modern Romania are voting with their feet, leaving the country and taking their children with them. They wanted the chance to vote for something good, they’ve had enough of the empty old regime.

December 9 is another opportunity for a positive, progressive message to be sent to the Romanian people, if they are still listening.

By Ronnie Smith, Guest Writer 

Ronnie Smith is Scottish and now lives in Romania, working as a professional training business consultant and communication coach. He is also a teacher of political science, a political and social commentator and a writer of fiction. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Romania

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