104841 4/18/2007 14:32 07BUCHAREST443 Embassy Bucharest CONFIDENTIAL VZCZCXRO9400 OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR DE RUEHBM #0443/01 1081432 ZNY CCCCC ZZH O 181432Z APR 07 FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6474 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 000443
STATE FOR EUR/NCE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/17/2017 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, RO SUBJECT: SENIOR PSD DEPUTY HREBENCIUC: WE HAVE THE VOTES TO SUSPEND, ALTHOUGH I'D RATHER NOT
Classified By: DCM Mark Taplin for 1.4(b) and (d)
1. (C) Summary: Senior PSD political strategist Viorel Hrebenciuc confirmed that the clock has begun ticking on the process that will result in a vote to suspend the President. He insisted that the anti-Basescu bloc had the votes to suspend the President, but suggested to Emboffs that if Basescu were to make a conciliatory public statement reaching out to the opposition, the President's suspension could still be avoided. Hrebenciuc's reservations about pushing through with the suspension option, first expressed to us several weeks ago, have seemingly sharpened in the wake of Basescu's threat to resign if Parliament votes to suspend him, At the same time, Hrebenciuc insisted that he had in mind a potential dark horse PSD candidate who could successfully confront Basescu in an electoral contest for the Presidency. End Summary.
2. (C) In a meeting with DCM and Polcouns April 17, Social Democratic Party (PSD) Deputy and senior party strategist Viorel Hrebenciuc confirmed that Parliament had formally received the Constitutional Court's written opinion on the suspension of President Basescu. He opined that Parliament would meet April 23 in joint session to vote on the suspension. (note: it now appears nearly certain that the vote will take place tomorrow, April 19.) He also confirmed that while the anti-Basescu camp had the votes to remove the President, there were still divisions within the PSD on whether or not to proceed with the suspension, notably from the "Cluj Group" (including Ion Rus, Vasile Duncu, and Vasile Puscas) who appeared to be working in concert with former PD Interior Minister Blaga to block the suspension. Asked about former PSD President Iliescu (who had spoken publicly against proceeding with the suspension), Hrebenciuc insisted that Iliescu had participated at a PSD meeting on Sunday and had not voiced any reservations about suspending Basescu.
3. (C) Hrebenciuc said that the PNL was, if anything, even more determined than the PSD to remove Baescu. He said that he had heard from PNL contacts that they were fearful that the PSD might stop short of removal, leaving the Liberals in the lurch. He said that between the PSD and PNL, they had 222 votes (out of 235) needed to suspend the President. With the addition of 50 PRM votes and some 25 independent votes, the anti-Basescu camp had a comfortable margin of votes for removal. Hrebenciuc noted that the UDMR would likely also vote against Basescu, noting that the party had not forgotten efforts by Basescu to split the Hungarian bloc by supporting Laszlo Tokes.
4. (C) Hrebenciuc opined that President Basescu was intent on carrying out his threat to resign and force new Presidential elections if he was suspended. He acknowledged that it would be a "big battle" but evinced confidence that a PSD candidate would be able to contest Basescu for the Presidency and win. He asserted that Basescu had dropped 20 percent in the polls in the past two and a half months, and would continue to drop further in the polls during the 90 days needed to organize new elections. He insisted that the right-nationalist PNG party of Gigi Bacali was not such a threat; he would likely get no more than 15 percent of the vote. Hrebenciuc added that recent polls suggested that the gap between those who wanted Basescu to stay and those wanting his permanent removal from office was narrowing, with some 30-35 percent calling for Basescu's removal and 40-45 percent favoring his staying on as President.
5. (C) Hrebenciuc acknowledged that he was loath to see Geoana take on Basescu in a one-on-one Presidential contest, since a Geoana loss would imperil his leadership of the PSD. The PSD's own polling suggested that Basescu would win a race against Geoana by a 55-45 margin; he would also outpoll Gigi Becali by a 60-40 margin. Hrebenciuc said that he was encouraging PSD General Secretary Titus Corlatean to contest the election against Basescu. Corlatean was a "fresh face" with no communist-era baggage.
6. (C) Hrebenciuc insisted that President Basescu could put an end to the crisis immediately if he were to make a statement calling for the restoration of stability and peaceful relations among the President, Prime Minister, and Parliament. He added that this was "his idea" and not the view of his party, and had not been broached yet with PSD President Geoana. Hrebenciuc said that he would be meeting with Geoana later the same day to discuss the idea. He commented that while he had been speaking informally with the some PD leaders, including former Interior Minister Blaga, former Defense Minister Frunzeverde, and Bucharest Mayor Videanu, those three Democratic Party (PD) leaders were clearly on the outs with Basescu and were not a useful
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channel for his proposal for a presidential statement. He added that he had had seen Basescu confidante Elena Udrea at a restaurant the previous night but had been rebuffed. He said that Basescu advisor (and former pollster) Sebastian Lazaroiu also appeared to be encouraging Basescu to take a more confrontational attitude. Hrebenciuc concluded that there were many reasons not to continue with the suspension vote, but Basescu had given his opponents no reason to stop the process.
7. (C) Comment: The meeting was at Hrebenciuc's request, and he was at turns both illuminating and elliptical in his comments. While he has been a leader -- some say the key figure -- behind the PSD's successful efforts to break apart the PNL-PD alliance, he has told us consistently that the suspension effort against Basescu was never for him the primary objective. In fact, he made it clear to us earlier that he had serious reservations about the wisdom of proceeding forward with the suspension effort in the event that the Constitutional Court did not support the charges against Basescu compiled by the opposition. Hrebenciuc acknowledged up front that his party was not ready for a bruising and costly series of electoral contests, first for the presidency, then for the European Parliament this fall, and finally for early Parliamentary elections, possibly at the end of the year. Under these circumstances, Geoana and the Social Democrats could lose much of what they have gained during the past three months: a weakened presidency, leverage over a minority Liberal government, and the ability to force new elections whenever the PSD deemed it was ready. Basescu's announcement that he will resign the Presidency if suspended and force new elections has clearly discomfited his opponents, who do not relish the prospect of trying to beat Basescu at this time in an electoral contest. Hrebenciuc's enthusiasm over the prospect of running dark horse candidate PSD Secretary General Corlatean as the party's presidential candidate appeared to be a case of necessity being the mother of invention. While Hrebenciuc clearly wanted us to weigh in with Basescu in favor of a conciliatory presidential statement, we have adopted a strictly neutral posture now that the political poker game has entered its final hours. Later in the day, Basescu did speak out, but in terms that certainly did not represent an olive branch or a potential fig-leaf for the opposition to back down. It remains to be seen whether the Constitutional Court opinion, which supports Basescu's position, will provide enough cover for the President's opponents to step back from the brink. Under these circumstances, the secret ballot process in Parliament could tend to erode party discipline, so that even if the leadership of the opposition and Liberal parties speak out in favor of suspending Basescu, individual legislators would quietly vote against suspension. A day before the likely suspension vote, the outcome remains in the balance. End Comment. TAUBMAN