31153 4/20/2005 14:21 05BUCHAREST982 Embassy Bucharest CONFIDENTIAL 05BUCHAREST199 This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available. C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 000982
STATE DEPT FOR EUR/NCE WILLIAM SILKWORTH STATE ALSO FOR INR/B
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/20/2015 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, KDEM, SOCI, ECON, PINR, RO, election forecast, biographic information SUBJECT: FORMER ROMANIAN RULING PARTY PREPARES FOR NATIONAL CONGRESS; FEW PROSPECTS FOR REFORM
REF: BUCHAREST 199
Classified By: POLITICAL SECTION CHIEF ROBERT GILCHRIST FOR REASONS 1.4 B AND D
1. (SBU) Summary. The Social Democratic Party (PSD) holds its national Congress April 21-22, an event at which ex-Romanian President Ion Iliescu will likely be elected party president while former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase will probably win the number two slot of Executive President. Despite some dissent within the party and a challenge by several party "reformers" during the Congress, PSD insiders and independent analysts predict that the party's old guard will triumph, noting the recent selection of local leaders from the ranks of party "barons." Nonetheless, secret balloting during the congress (a first for the PSD) and opportunities for dissenters to mount the rostrum guarantee that the congress' outcome is not a foregone conclusion. End Summary.
Out with the Old, In With the...Old
2. (C) The PSD has faced an identity crisis and internal power struggle since PM Nastase's unexpected defeat in the December 2004 presidential elections by Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu and the subsequent formation of a center-right coalition government led by PM Calin Popescu-Tariceanu (Ref). Soon after the fall elections, former Interior Minister Ioan Rus called publicly for revitalization of the party, urging vigorous attempts to recruit young supporters. More than four months after the parliamentary and presidential elections, Rus remains an influential voice within the party, especially in his region of Transylvania, calling for "new leadership" and urging former President and party founder Ion Iliescu not to run for party president. His allies include popular ex-FM Mircea Geoana, ex-Justice Minister Cristian Diaconescu and ex-Finance Minister Mihai Tanasescu.
3. (C) In the face of these calls for reform, the PSD "barons" - Romanian political shorthand for powerful, often corrupt local party leaders - have circled the wagons. During the first two weeks of April, local party officials across Romania chose the leaders of each of the nation's 41 judeti (counties) plus Bucharest. They include almost no fresh faces and the list of "new" county leaders is heavily weighted toward incumbents, including such notorious local heavyweights as Constanta Mayor Radu Mazare (who reputedly has ties to organized crime), Bacau party boss Viorel Hrebenciuc (linked to several corruption scandals, including the RAFO-Onesti refinery privatization), Bucharest's Dan Ioan Popescu (also linked to corruption allegations) and Vrancea's Marian Oprisan (frequently cited as one of the most heavy-handed local officials). Independent analysts point to these local elections as proof positive that the PSD is not ready to adopt meaningful internal reforms.
Party Congress - Reform or More of the Same?
4. (SBU) Over the past several weeks, senior PSD officials seeking election to national party offices have traveled across Romania courting local PSD organizations. According to credible inside reports, Iliescu, Nastase, PSD Vice President Miron Mitrea and the Rus-led reformers each can count on the support of about an equal number of county organizations. Local support is crucial at the congress, since the PSD's county leaders are instrumental in selecting the 1500 plus delegates for the April 21-22 party national congress. Many, if not most, delegates will probably follow the direction of their county's leader. An important wrinkle to this year's congress, however, is the fact that election of party national officers, who will serve for two-year terms, will be by secret ballot - a first for the PSD.
5. (SBU) PSD insiders confirm that Iliescu and Nastase have temporarily put aside their bitter political rivalry, agreeing that Iliescu should be elected party President, with Nastase filling the post of Executive President. The Iliescu-Nastase accord averts a confrontation during the congress between the PSD's two most powerful leaders. Miron Mitrea, one of the PSD's most effective, longstanding political insiders and head of the PSD parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies, has announced that he will seek the party's number three slot, Secretary General, opposed only by the young and outspoken, but politically weak Victor Ponta. Many analysts view Mitrea's bid for the SecGen slot as proof of his tacit assent to the Iliescu-Nastase entente.
6. (C) Adding a wild card to these calculations was the April 19 announcement by Geoana that he would compete against Iliescu for the party presidency. Former party spokesman Serban Nicolae has also announced his intention to compete for the job, thereby potentially splitting the reformist vote. Geoana declared April 15 that proponents of change will consider "a radical strategy" if the congress fails to "renew and modernize" the party. That message was also given to the Charge in a recent conversation with ex-Justice Minister Diaconescu. He said that he, Rus and Tanasescu would all join Geoana in seeking high office in the party hierarchy at the Congress. Failing that, the door leading to a bolt from the party was open.
7. (SBU) The congress will also decide how many VP positions the party will have, but party leaders indicate that initial plans are to shrink the total number of VP positions (currently at 17), possibly boding for heightened competition during the congress for fewer posts. Many of the PSD's current vice presidents, including Senate President Nicolae Vacaroiu, Rus, Diaconescu, Tanasescu, and respected ex-DefMin Ioan Mircea Pascu have announced their intention to run for VP slots. In addition to selecting national party leaders for the next two years, the delegates will also vote on the party's internal regulations and platform.
8. (C) Comment. Despite battle lines drawn between the "old guard" and ostensible reformers, the PSD's leaders are eager to avoid the kind of damaging public split that enfeebled the party in the late 1990's. Political analysts stress that the PSD faces virtually the same dilemma now as it did in 1997. They find themselves unexpectedly in the opposition after several years in power. They are divided by recriminations about the reasons for their electoral loss, and split between an anti-corruption reformist wing and solidly-entrenched party barons (mostly the same barons as in 1997). The difference between then and now is that senior leaders have been working behind the scenes to smooth over differences before the congress and avoid a public blood bath, viz., the Iliescu-Nastase entente. Geoana remains the single most popular PSD politician on a national level, according to opinion polls. However, he, Rus and their supporters lack both a political machine that compares with the forces wielded by the party barons, or their down and dirty aggressiveness.
9. (C) Additionally, many of the PSD insiders we have spoken with are far more focused on internal party politics than on expanding the party's shrinking electoral base (currently made up primarily of aging and rural voters) or countering the wave of popularity that Basescu and the Tariceanu government have capitalized on since the fall elections. Indeed, one PSD kingpin confided to PolChief recently that the party's strategy relies on the center-right alliance's "making a mistake," acknowledging with a rueful shrug that the PSD lacks a national plan targeting youthful voters. Although the PSD remains the largest single party in parliament, with about 34 percent of Deputies and Senators, it has not regained the morale and focus it lost after last fall's elections. There is no indication that the PSD will rise reinvigorated from this week's party congress. End Comment.
10. (U) Amembassy Bucharest,s reporting telegrams are available on the Bucharest SIPRNET Website: www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/bucharest. DELARE