119231 8/17/2007 14:57 07BUCHAREST940 Embassy Bucharest CONFIDENTIAL 07BUCHAREST797|07BUCHAREST846|07BUCHAREST940 VZCZCXRO3178 RR RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR DE RUEHBM #0940/01 2291457 ZNY CCCCC ZZH R 171457Z AUG 07 FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7157 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 000940
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E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/16/2017 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, RO SUBJECT: SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION: GEOANA ANNOUNCES NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION BY SEPTEMBER 10
REF: A. BUCHAREST 846 B. BUCHAREST 797
Classified By: Political Counselor Theodore Tanoue for Reasons 1.4 (b) (d).
1. (C) Summary: An informal PSD strategy meeting August 14 reportedly developed into a gripe session among party leaders unhappy with the party's current strategy of "constructive opposition" (e.g., silent support for the ultra-minority Tariceanu government.) A brief session apparently ended with PSD head Mircea Geoana agreeing to end the PSD's cohabitation with the Tariceanu government. Geoana subsequently announced that he would table a no-confidence vote by September 10. However, despite the PSD's insistence that it is serious about bringing down the government, these are still the opening gambits in a complex game that leaves plenty of wriggle room for Tariceanu's survival. End Summary.
2. (C) Prior to the PSD's August 14 strategy meeting, a number of PSD contacts warned of growing discontent among local party leaders and parliamentarians with the direction that the party had taken under the helm of Mircea Geoana and de facto party strategist Viorel Hrebenciuc. Local leaders were reportedly displeased with the lack of tangible--i.e. financial--benefits from the PSD's unofficial cohabitation with the PNL-UDMR government; parliamentarians were concerned as well about dismal prospects in the coming European Parliament elections given the PSD's continuing under-performance in the opinion polls. Euro-Parliamentarian Dan Mihalache told Polcouns that his party was even having trouble recruiting candidates to contest the upcoming European Parliament elections given the prospects of serving only a truncated (e.g., just over a year) term in office because of the late election date. Other party dissidents including former PSD Strategy Chief Vasile Dancu likened inclusion in the party's European Parliament candidate list to involuntary "exile" for opposing the Geoana-Iliescu-Hrebenciuc axis.
3. (C) In a meeting August 16, PSD Vice President Victor Ponta described the PSD's strategy session as a "spontaneous" explosion of discontent with the direction taken by Geoana. One by one, party leaders criticized the PSD's strategy of "constructive opposition" as confusing to voters and a recipe for defeat in coming elections. Participants at the meeting reportedly argued that voters could not grasp how the PSD could simultaneously claim to be an opposition party as well as a supporter of the Tariceanu status quo. (Note: we heard from other contacts that there were gripes as well that the PNL had stolen the credit for recent PSD policy initiatives including a generous pension increase. PSD leaders also reportedly criticized Geoana and Hrebenciuc for their decision to renege on the PSD's earlier multi-party agreement to support uninominal electoral reform, arguing that this handed President Basescu an opportunity to call for a referendum on the uninominal vote issue.) Ponta said that the strategy meeting--while stormy--ended after a half hour, as Geoana quickly sized up the mood of the gathering and capitulated to the demands of party leaders. Ponta concluded that the meeting had been a repudiation of the strategies chosen by Geoana and Hrebenciuc, and a victory for the "Cluj group" and other party dissidents. He noted pointedly that the PSD leadership subsequently publicly extended an olive branch to former party strategist Vasile Dancu who recently resigned his party leadership position amidst bitter criticism of Geoana and Hrebenciuc.
4. (SBU) In his subsequent press remarks, Geoana (conspicuously surrounded by Cluj group leaders) told the assembled press pool that the Tariceanu government had "lost the trust" of Romanians and of a majority of mainstream political parties. Geoana also blamed the government for failing to deliver economic benefits to the country, including its "lamentable performance" in absorbing EU funds. He concluded that it was now time, after three years of underperformance, to replace the government with one capable of focusing on the "real priorities" of the country including pension and health care reform and the fight against poverty. Geoana said that the PSD would contribute to any formula that would bring about a "competent and serious" government. In subsequent press remarks, Geoana and other PSD leaders made clear their expectation that Geoana will be named the next Prime Minister.
5. (C) PSD President Geoana phoned the Ambassador August 16 with his version of events. (The Ambassador is currently on leave in the U.S.) Geoana recounted that much of his new thinking had come about during a recent visit to the United States and in his conversations with Americans both in and
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out of the administration. He added that the NATO summit was another reason to proceed quickly with the no-confidence vote. Geoana insisted that the PSD could no longer "tolerate" supporting an ultra-minority government that had just 20 percent of the seats in parliament, and insisted that he was serious about taking down the Tariceanu government. This was not a bargaining ploy in order to obtain ministerial appointments for PSD leaders or to win other concessions. Geoana also acknowledged that the PSD strategy session had been a verbal "slug-fest" but insisted that most of the arguments were over who should take over as Prime Minister after Tariceanu. When reminded that President Basescu had clearly stated earlier this year that Geoana would not be his choice for the Prime Ministership, Geoana acknowledged the point, but replied that his party was firm in its view that he had to be the new Prime Minister.
6. (C) Comment: The surprise PSD announcement that it would abandon its informal co-habitation with the Tariceanu government and pursue a no-confidence vote puts an end to what has been a relatively calm summer season. Nevertheless, we remain skeptical -- as do most in the Romanian political elite -- that the no-confidence motion will ultimately lead to the removal of the Tariceanu government. Despite the PSD's public insistence that this is not a bargaining ploy, we have heard through parliamentary contacts that the wily Hrebenciuc has been telling his PNL counterparts "not to worry" as sufficient numbers of PSD deputies would abstain from voting so that the no-confidence motion would fail. This tracks with comments that Hrebenciuc made to the Charge on August 13. Hrebenciuc insisted that any change in direction by the Social Democrats would most likely lead to more overt cooperation with the Liberals, including possibly a limited entry into true co-governance and a "redistribution" of ministerial posts. He even hinted that Geoana might take "an international position" at the end of the year, leaving his party post behind. In the event that a no-confidence vote succeeds, the next steps remain murky since there is a range of possible outcomes under the Romanian constitution. These range from a fast-track dismissal of the Prime Minister followed by a vote on a new cabinet within ten days; the slow-track could involve the President invoking new elections if Parliament fails twice to approve a new Prime Minister within 60 days. Elections must then take place within three months after dissolution, meaning that a lame-duck government could remain in office even up to five months after losing a confidence vote. At this stage, however, most observers argue that parliamentarians collectively are still loath to agree a no-confidence vote, since this could lead to their having to contest for their seats in early elections. However, as the failed PSD putsch last spring against President Basescu so clearly demonstrated, events in Romania can quickly take on their own momentum and not be amenable to a modulated approach. End Comment.