97027 2/16/2007 10:55 07BUCHAREST180 Embassy Bucharest UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY 07BUCHAREST158|07BUCHAREST170 VZCZCXRO9970 RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG DE RUEHBM #0180 0471055 ZNR UUUUU ZZH R 161055Z FEB 07 FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6058 INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE UNCLAS BUCHAREST 000180
STATE FOR EUR/NCE
E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PGOV, RO SUBJECT: BEFORE A HALF-EMPTY PARLIAMENT, BASESCU PROPOSES TO CHANGE ELECTORAL SYSTEM, REFORM POLITICAL CLASS
REF: A. BUCHAREST 158 B. BUCHAREST 170
1. (SBU) In a February 14 address before Parliament, President Traian Basescu announced his intention to organize a national referendum to change the electoral process in favor of uninominal voting and away from the current party list system. Basescu focused his address on what he labeled a central challenge in Romanian politics: its self-centered political class. Whereas Romanian society as a whole had made "remarkable progress" since the 1989 Revolution, it was less true of the politicians. Romania was witnessing at present "the victory of party interests over the public interest." Basescu stressed that a cross-party coalition had formed in opposition to reforms and the popular will. He said he was alarmed that "the expectations of the Romanian political class are different now than they were several months ago." "We have seen," Basescu went on, "that in the current electoral system, one can govern without the support of public opinion. We have seen that...control over state resources and backroom understandings are more important than public support and the desire of the public for reforms." Uninominal voting, as opposed to the current party list system, would reverse the relationship within parties, making the leadership of the parties dependent on the support of parliamentarians, not vice versa. According to him, the electoral reform would "transfer power from the party leaderships to the electorate at the local level." In a letter to Parliamentary leaders on February 15, Basescu announced he wanted to hold the referendum in the second half of March.
2. (SBU) Opposition deputies had announced a boycott of the President's speech a few hours beforehand, and even some prominent members of the National Liberal Party, such as President of the Chamber of Deputies Bogdan Olteanu, absented themselves. In the run-up to the session, some opposition leaders had also insisted that Basescu apologize for his verbal attacks on the Parliament, especially recent remarks the President had made alleging that some (unnamed) politicians "make laws for criminals." Predictably, Basescu did not apologize, instead suggesting the Parliamentary leadership had overreacted since he had not condemned the Parliament as an institution. The problem went beyond simply Parliament; it also affected local politicians and government officials. "The disease is widespread in our whole political and administrative system," Basescu stressed. He went on to support his argument with examples of "politically-influenced" legislation on such matters as privatization projects and the activities of the State Property Agency.
2. (SBU) Basescu's speech and proposal to conduct a referendum to reform the electoral system was immediately labeled by Social Democratic Party President Mircea Geoana as a "cheap trick" to deflect attention away from the opposition's own moves to suspend and then unseat the Romanian President. Liberal Olteanu, an important political ally of the Prime Minister's and a frequent Basescu critic, called Basescu's performance "pure demagoguery." Conservative Party (PC) Senator Sabin Cutas deplored the fact that Basescu did not apologize for his remarks about legislation favoring criminals.
3. (SBU) Comment: At a minimum, Basescu's call for a referendum to reform the electoral system will present the opposition with some tactical challenges. But it looks doubtful that it will blunt its ongoing campaign to rid itself of Basescu and key reformers like Justice Minister Macovei. Whether the somewhat arcane argument in favor of a uninominal electoral system resonated with the Romanian public in a positive way remains, for the moment, unclear. In the face of a steady anti-Basescu drumbeat in much of the oligarch-controlled national media, the president will need to do more to keep pace in what is now a no-holds barred contest for Romanian hearts and minds. End Comment. TAUBMAN