25719 1/21/2005 15:41 05BUCHAREST199 Embassy Bucharest CONFIDENTIAL 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 000199
STATE DEPT FOR EUR/NCE - WILLIAM SILKWORTH STATE ALSO FOR INR/B
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/21/2015 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, KDEM, SOCI, ECON, PINR, RO SUBJECT: FORMER ROMANIAN RULING PARTY FACES LEADERSHIP STRUGGLE, CONFRONTS INTERNAL DIVISIONS
REF: 04 BUCHAREST 3478
Classified By: POLITICAL SECTION CHIEF ROBERT GILCHRIST FOR REASONS 1.4 B AND D
1. (C) Summary. The formerly ruling center-left Social Democratic Party (PSD) is roiled by internal divisions and faces a leadership struggle, with former President Ion Iliescu and ex-PM Adrian Nastase the principle contenders to lead the party. The PSD recently reestablished its "Permanent Delegation," most of whose members are long-standing Iliescu allies. After four years in power, the PSD faces an identity crisis as it attempts to redefine itself as an opposition party. End Summary.
Jockeying for Position in Former Ruling Party
2. (C) The PSD first tried to take stock of itself after it suffered surprising losses in major urban centers in June municipal elections. Arguably, the attempt to reinvent itself as a more vigorous, younger, less arrogant and less corrupt party failed. The voters' verdict in parliamentary elections in November gave a slight majority of Senate and chamber seats to non-PSD parties, and with Bucharest mayor Basescu soundly defeating ex-PM Nastase in the race for the Presidency. The knives have been out ever since and the number of explanations for the PSD's loss of power are numerous. According to PSD insiders, the party will likely hold a congress in April to elect the party's leaders and restore a semblance of unity. PSD members paint a picture of a party divided into several factions, with the principal contenders for the party's leadership being former President Ion Iliescu and ex-PM (and losing 2004 presidential candidate) Adrian Nastase.
3. (C) Iliescu has publicly declared that he offers the party "experience and credibility." Rather less believably he also claimed to represent "new thinking," since his presidency over the past four years supposedly kept him above the party fray. Iliescu's supporters include many influential, long-standing PSD local politicians - referred to derisively by ordinary Romanians and the independent media as the PSD's "barons." A senior PSD politician told PolOff, however, that many rank and file PSD members are furious at Iliescu for his decision just before the expiration of his mandate to pardon notorious miners' leader Miron Cozma (Ref). Another commonly heard criticism of Iliescu, both within and without the PSD, is that he represents the "old face" of PSD, attracting mainly older and rural voters and not appealing to younger, urban citizens. Iliescu recently publicly called efforts to reform the party "crude" and "primitive," while offering no obvious alternate vision.
4. (C) The loose faction clustering around Chamber of Deputies President and ex-PM Nastase probably has less influence within the party than the pro-Iliescu group; some PSD members opine that his loss to Basescu in the presidential contest disqualifies him from leading the party. Many Embassy interlocutors have also noted that Nastase lacks the personal appeal that Iliescu has with voters in the rural portion of the country -- one contact asserted that Iliescu has an image as "Romania's collective grandpa," while Nastase's alleged possession of multiple homes and luxury cars, together with habitually prickly reactions to criticisms, contributed to his image as "aloof and corrupt." Although Nastase has attempted to keep his hat in the political ring by launching a steady stream of criticism against President Traian Basescu and PM Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, recent press reports have mocked Nastase for reportedly maintaining a staff of 46 "assistants," noting that such a large contingent is more suitable for a PM than the President of the Chamber of Deputies. Incoming PM Tariceanu also complained that Nastase and his staff prior to their departure had basically cleaned out much of the prime ministerial palace of furniture and equipment, even removing telephones and canceling service in many offices.
PSD Reform Movement?
5. (C) Meanwhile, a January 10 gathering of fourteen party leaders from Transylvania, coordinated by ex-Interior Minister Ioan Rus, called for internal reforms and democratization of decision-making processes within the PSD. Party activists have told us that many PSD leaders, especially those from Transylvania, are dissatisfied with the choice of either Iliescu or Nastase to lead the party and would welcome a "reform" leader. Names bruited include Rus, former FM Mircea Geoana, and ex-Justice Minister Cristian Diaconescu. One PSD insider described Rus, despite his popularity among PSD members in Transylvania, as lacking the political will to mount a leadership struggle against Iliescu and Nastase.
6. (C) Although both Diaconescu and Geoana are personally popular within the party, especially among younger members, neither man has the backing of a powerful local machine. Nor do they have noticeable support from those in the party with access to resources or influence outside of Bucharest. Additionally, the party's senior leaders will insist on an open ballot leadership vote at the April party congress, in lieu of a secret ballot, and few rank and file members will dare to publicly challenge the barons' "recommendations." Finally, PSD sources tell us that Iliescu and Nastase are discussing a possible compromise under which Iliescu would be elected PSD "Founder and President" and Nastase would be elected PSD "President." Leadership questions aside, local PSD activists are impatient with the PSD's "top-down" management style. One bone of contention among the rank and file was the party's "primaries" last year, derided as a sham process in which senior leaders selected the PSD's parliamentary candidates, despite public proclamations that the process would be transparent and democratic. This dissatisfaction could spill over into the party congress.
Return of the Barons (They Never Really Left)
7. (C) According to reliable reports, PSD's senior leaders have decided to reestablish the party's so-called "Permanent Delegation," essentially a steering committee of the party's most senior leaders. In an attempt to whitewash the party's image following the PSD's surprisingly poor results in June 2004 local elections, party elders replaced the Permanent Delegation with a "Coordinating Bureau" that excluded some of the PSD's most notorious local leaders (although they continued to play key behind the scene roles). The new Permanent Bureau comprises 23 prominent PSD members. Most are long-standing Iliescu allies (read: barons) and many cut their political teeth during the communist era. The Permanent Delegation's members include reputedly corrupt figures, such as former Transport Minister Miron Mitrea and former Tourism Minister Dan Matei Agathon. Other key Iliescu allies among the 17 member Bureau include respected former Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu and former Trade and Economy Minister Dan Ioan Popescu. The minority of non-Iliescu supporters includes ex-FM Geoana, ex-Interior Minister Rus, and ex-FM Mihai Tanasescu. Most analysts conclude that the re-establishment of the Permanent Delegation and its majority make up of Iliescu hands amounts to a tactical victory for Iliescu in his ongoing struggle with Nastase for control of the party.
8. (C) Comment. The former ruling PSD faces an identity crisis as it comes to grips with the unpleasant reality that after four years of governing it must now decide who will lead it in opposition. Many rank and file PSD members have expressed hope that the party would reinvent itself as a more modern social democratic movement. However, the persistence at the core of the party of local barons and former senior communist officials, including in the reestablished permanent delegation, gives little hope for real reform in the short term. One Basescu advisor told PolChief that the PSD is banking on eventual failure by the Basescu and Tariceanu-run government and in a few years hopes to return to power, as in 2000, as the voters' "only option." The advisor said Basescu is "absolutely committed" to preventing this scenario. Over time, the PSD has attracted modernizers or technocrats such as Geoana, Rus, and Diaconescu. However, despite popular support, thus far such members have failed to capture control of critical levers of power within the party. Therefore, true reform will likely be delayed. End Comment.
9. (U) Amembassy Bucharest,s reporting telegrams are available on the Bucharest SIPRNET Website: www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/bucharest