177115 11/6/2008 15:17 08BUCHAREST857 Embassy Bucharest CONFIDENTIAL P 061517Z NOV 08 FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8858 INFO EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY C O N F I D E N T I A L BUCHAREST 000857
STATE FOR EUR/CE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/05/2018 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, RO SUBJECT: PD-L SECRETARY GENERAL BLAGA ON ELECTION PROSPECTS: IT'S THE ECONOMY, STUPID
Classified By: CDA Jeri Guthrie-Corn for reasons 1.5 (b) and (d)
1. (C) Summary: PD-L Secretary General Blaga said that recent internal polls suggest his party will win 38 percent of votes in the upcoming parliamentary elections, with the rival PSD and PNL taking 32 and 15 percent, respectively. Blaga provided a detailed overview of election dynamics and argued that PSD and PNL strategy of isolating the PD-L had backfired, as voters now held the PNL-led government accountable for an increasingly uncertain economic picture and were also worried that the PSD's advocacy of generous pension and wage increase was no substitute for a coherent economic policy. He added that the recent row between the PSD and PNL over teacher salary wage hikes was evidence that a nascent PSD-PNL coalition was already on the verge of "blowing up." He also insisted that the PD-L could still form a coalition with either the PNL or the PSD, as "there are people in all the parties who can put together a deal." End Summary.
2. (C) Polcouns met November 5 with PD-L Secretary General Vasile Blaga. Blaga--a Basescu confidante and one of the PD-L's key campaign strategists--said that winning the upcoming parliamentary elections under the new uninominal rules would entail executing a multi-layered campaign strategy at the national, county, and local precinct levels. This included leveraging President Basescu's incumbency to enunciate a common national campaign theme; different policy messages specifically tailored for urban and rural constituencies; and an aggressive ground game to ensure that registered PD-L supporters showed up on election day. Door-to-door campaigning was the only option given predictions for a low voter turnout--likely in 40-45 percent range--on November 30. (Election day selection, the day before Romania,s National Day holiday, guaranteed that many voters would be out of town and absentee ballots are not used in Romania.)
3. (C) In handicapping the race, Blaga said that only his party and the PSD enjoyed the full range of resources needed to dominate the campaign. Thanks to its incumbent status, the PNL was flush with cash--as evidenced by the profusion of PNL print media advertising and billboards prior to the election. However, it could not fully capitalize on this given its inability to quickly expand its organization at the grass-roots level. Conversely, the PSD had a vast grassroots presence but four years out of office meant that party coffers were empty and the party risked "implosion" if it lost another election. Blaga admitted that PSD and PNL efforts to gerrymander the new election districts might confer advantage in some races, but insisted that this was a two-edged sword. The gerrymandered districts favored selected candidates (e.g, Prime Minister Tariceanu) who could cherry-pick the most secure districts, but at the same time had the effect of demoralizing other party candidates relegated to less favorable constituencies. This was exacerbated by the new electoral rules which subjected any candidate not receiving an outright majority to the rigors of a proportional-representation rank-order system. This factor means many PSD and PNL candidates could "kill one another off" during the race. Blaga said the PD-L's handicaps included lack of access to oligarch-owned electronic media and deficits in four major counties (Iasi, Constanta, Bacau, and Arges) where his party was traditionally weakest.
4. (C) Blaga said that he was very happy with recent polling results and with his party's campaign efforts. He noted wryly that the only election he had lost--his own recent run for Bucharest mayor--was the only one that he did not manage personally. Barring any "extraordinary" events the PD-L was on track to get 4-5 percentage points more than the PSD. Blaga said that internal polls from the previous week indicated that the PD-L had the support of 38 percent of likely voters, with the PSD, PNL, and UDMR registering 32 percent, 15 percent, and 5 percent, respectively. (Note: He said the right-extremist PRM and PNG would fail to break the 5 percent threshold.) Even more encouraging were the overall trendlines after the June 2008 local elections: the PD-L had climbed back from a nadir of 24 percent. In contrast, the PSD had risen from 28 percent in June to 31 percent in August, followed by a relatively stagnant performance in subsequent months. The most precipitous decline was in the PNL, with Tariceanu's party dropping from 20 percent in June to 16 percent in August, followed by a further decline to 15 percent in October. Blaga said that the PSD's alliance with Dan Voiculescu's Conservative Party had been a mistake, as it reminded voters of the corrupt and authoritarian origins of both parties. Ultimately, the Romanian economy would be the main issue in the upcoming election, and voters were angry that Tariceanu had reneged on promises to raise salaries when it was clear that his party was pouring lots of money into the election. Voters were also blaming the government for Romania's net payee status as a new EU member, and were worried about corruption as well. Blaga said that respondents ranked the first Tariceanu cabinet (in coalition with Basescu's PD) as the least corrupt recent government, but ranked the current Tariceanu cabinet as the second most corrupt after the Nastase-led PSD government of 2001-2004.
5. (C) Blaga said that the game plan for the PSD and PNL had been to ignore and marginalize the PD-L, avoid confronting President Basescu directly, and generally to present the election as a two-party contest between the PSD and PNL. This strategy had backfired in the wake of growing economic uncertainty: voters now held the PNL (and to a lesser extent the PSD) responsible for the government's management of the economy. Similarly, the PSD's attempts to win voters' support through generous increases in wages and welfare benefits was now seen as irresponsible and no substitute for a coherent economic policy. Blaga added that the recent dispute over the new law granting a 50 percent wage hike for teachers (which the PSD had supported but which was postponed until next spring by Prime Minister Tariceanu through an emergency ordinance) was more evidence that a future PSD-PNL coalition may be on the verge of "blowing up."
6. (C) Blaga claimed access to the PSD's internal surveys which indicated that even the PSD's rank and file felt that the best choice for a future coalition was a tie-up with the PD; other surveys of PNL voters resulted in similar results. He opined that recreating the 2004 "D.A." coalition with the PNL was the best option once Tariceanu left the scene, but an alliance with the PSD was also possible given that only a handful of PSD leaders--Iliescu, Nastase, and Hrebenciuc--were adamantly opposed to a coalition with the PD-L. Polcouns noted that while the mathematics argued for the formation of a coalition government, bad chemistry--including PNL leaders' rejection of a government headed by former PNL head Teodor Stolojan--might be a possible impediment. Blaga responded, "People failed to notice that the selection of a new Prime Ministerial candidate is actually a prerogative of the party, not just of the President; there are people in the party who will know what to do in this circumstance." He noted that "there are plenty of people from all parties who can put together a deal." Asked whether the PD-L was actively negotiating right now with other parties, Blaga responded: "I can't deny that we talk, but it's the minimum contact possible. No serious negotiations will happen until after the election results are in."
7. (C) When queried about various "wild card" scenarios now circulating, Blaga responded that a proposal for nominating a "technocratic" Prime Minister such as Central Bank President Isarescu as a second-round compromise choice was a "good idea" but unlikely as parliament was likely to approve a new Cabinet at the first attempt. Blaga demurred when asked if any of these scenarios might include his nomination as Prime Minister, but added that "this is not a job I want, but it's for the party to decide." He also downplayed threats from the PSD and PNL side to resort to suspending President Basescu in order to install an acting President who would nominate a Prime Minister from their own ranks; it would prove to be an enormously unpopular step, and only anti-Basescu die-hards including PSD legislative whip Viorel Hrebenciuc and PNL Chamber of Deputies President Bogdan Olteanu were serious about this option.
8. (C) Comment: After under-performing in the June local elections, the PD-L appears to be back in the game thanks to growing uncertainty about the economy. While other recent polls suggest a narrower gap between the PD-L and the PSD, they also appear to confirm Blaga's overall observation that his party is on an upward trajectory while the PSD's vote share has remained flat and the PNL has lost some ground in recent weeks. Blaga has eschewed any ambitions to be the party's Prime Minister, but his cryptic remark that "there are people in the party who will know what to do" if PD-L Prime Ministerial candidate Theodor Stolojan proves to be an obstacle to forming a governing coalition, suggests that he may still be hoping that the choice of Stolojan is not a done deal. End Comment.