165367 8/8/2008 13:27 08BUCHAREST633 Embassy Bucharest CONFIDENTIAL P 081327Z AUG 08 FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8573 INFO EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY C O N F I D E N T I A L BUCHAREST 000633
STATE FOR EUR/CE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/08/2018 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, RO SUBJECT: NOT HUNGRY: PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR DISCUSSES RECENT ELECTION MISSTEPS, LOOKS AHEAD TO POST-ELECTION SCENARIOS
Classified By: DCM JGuthrie-Corn, reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (C) Summary: Presidential Advisor Chiritoiu acknowledged shortcomings in the PD-L's recent election campaign, including overconfidence and running a candidate who evinced insufficient enthusiasm in running for the Bucharest Mayoral post. He denied rumors of a PD-L rapprochment with the PNL, noting that the anti-Basescu camp was now the dominant force in the PNL. He said that the separate timing of the parliamentary and presidential elections meant that more weight would be put on the parties' respective candidates for Prime Minister to serve as "engines" for their parties' campaigns. He said that the PD-L strategy was to win pole position in the number of parliamentary seats won in order to claim the Prime Ministership, but evinced concerns that Basescu's enemies might again resort to suspending the President temporarily in order to have an acting President nominate a candidate of their own choosing. End Summary.
2. (C) The August summer lull provided an opportunity for Polcouns and senior Political FSN to visit a near-empty Cotroceni palace for an informal lunch in the Presidential Office canteen with Presidential Advisor Bogdan Chiritoiu August 6. Chiritoiu provided a frank assessment of the pro-Basescu PD-L's performance in the recent local and municipal elections, noting that despite "relatively good" results overall, the PD-L had taken a "bad approach" to the key Bucharest municipal contest, including the party's overconfidence and sense of entitlement that it "owned" the Bucharest Mayorality. Another mistake was in nominating former Interior Minister Vasile Blaga despite Blaga's evident ambivalence about running for the position. Blaga had agreed to run only after a number of other PD-L leaders had declined, and his demeanor had conveyed to the public that he was in the race out of a sense of obligation to the party and was not sufficiently "hungry" for the job. Next time, he said, we need somebody who really wants the position. Chiritoiu bemoaned the fact that despite the relatively close election results, it was the PSD and not the PD-L which had succeeded in impressing on the minds of Romanian voters that it had won the election.
3. (C) Chiritoiu said that rumors of a rapprochment between the PD-L and the PNL were just that--rumors. He warned that one should not read too much into President Basescu's recent refusal to criticize the government's response to ongoing floods in northern Romania (in comparison to previous years). Basescu was not warming up to the PNL, he said, but wanted to project an image of himself as a statesman above party politics. Chiritoiu added that the Tariceanu-Olteanu wing of the PNL was adamantly opposed to a rapprochement with the PD-L and instead sought a post-election alliance with the PSD. While PNL factional leader Ludovic Orban had tried to carve out a niche as a proponent of reconciliation with the President, Orban's star was now waning in the aftermath of his unsuccessful run for the Bucharest mayorship. The result, he noted, was that even Orban was now careful to hew to the anti-Basescu orthodoxy in the PNL.
4. (C) Chiritoiu said that none of Romania's political parties were enthusiastic about the recently adopted uninominal election rules. He counted President Basescu among the skeptics, but added that Basescu had resisted approaches from--unnamed--political figures who had urged him to block the implementation of the new system. While no party (with the exception of the right-extremist PRM) had publicly spoken out against the new system, many politicians across the political spectrum were silently hoping that the PRM's legal challenge against the new voting rules would be upheld by the Constitutional Court. Chiritoiu evinced the hope that parliament will amend the new system over time, noting that his own preference was for a more "clearcut" system modeled either on the UK's first-past-the-post system or the French two-round system.
5. (C) Turning to the upcoming legislative elections, Chiritoiu remarked that aside from the new electoral rules, one major change was the "de-linking" of the parliamentary and presidential elections, with the former taking place this year and the latter taking place next year. Previous elections featured the presidential candidates as the standard-bearers and figureheads for their respective parties. This year, he said, it would have to be the Prime Ministerial candidates--Stolojan for the PD-L, Tariceanu for the PNL, and Geoana for the PSD--who would have to serve as the "engines" for their respective parties.
6. (C) Handicapping the various candidates, Chiritoiu remarked that Geoana was still hamstrung by his image as a relative "lightweight" in comparison to his peers; Tariceanu for his part had more gravitas and--after surprising everyone by lasting four years on the job--now carried himself like a real Prime Minister. He insisted that the "unserious" side of Tariceanu still came through in the fact that the Prime Minister had interrupted his French holiday only briefly to deal with the flood disaster, and had quickly resumed his vacation plans. He said that Stolojan strengths were unconventional ones--the public saw him as cold, capable, honest, stubborn, and determined--a "Germanic" candidate who still nevertheless connected with a "Latin" electorate. Asked whether Stolojan might suffer from the same handicap that Blaga had (e.g, not appearing sufficiently "hungry" for the job), Chiritoiu replied that Stolojan's appeal was precisely because he never appeared motivated by a desire for personal power or self-interest; his message was "I'm here to serve you..." Chiritoiu bemoaned the fact that the PD-L had not yet announced its formal choice of candidate for Prime Minister, noting that the party was losing precious time, but Stolojan was stubbornly refusing to formally announce his candidacy until after his party's electoral platform was completed.
7.(C) Chiritoiu defended the late-2007 merger of Basescu's PD and the PLD into the PD-L. While it had not met the high expectations that surrounded its formation, the merger had nevertheless resulted in the addition of many high-profile PLD politicians including Stolojan and Stoica, and the injection of many "good ideas" into the new party. On the negative side, many PLD voters had abandoned the new party and returned to the PNL fold. Chiritoiu argued however, that the PD would have fared even worse had the merger not taken place, as the PLD had contributed to victories in a number of regions including Suceava, Botosani, Neamt, and Dambovita. Without their help, he concluded, it really would have been a PSD victory during the recent local elections.
8. (C) Turning to post-electoral scenarios, Chiritoiu said that a key objective for the PD-L was to win the greatest number of parliamentary seats in order to lay claim to the Prime Ministership. He noted that while the consensus view within the Presidential office was that the other parties would eventually assent to the formation of a Stolojan government if the PD-L wins the most parliamentary seats, especially given the shared objective of newly-elected parliamentarians to avoid the quick dissolution of parliament so soon after the elections, since they would be loath to expend the energy and resources needed for another election. He added, however, that the "real game" was not the numbers but the negotiations, acknowledging that the PD-L side was not in a "good position" in that regard.
9. (C) Chiritoiu said a continuing concern in the President's camp was that Basescu's opponents might again resort to suspending him in order to have an interim President (most likely PSD Senate President Vacaroiu) nominate the next Prime Minister. Under constitutional rules, he said, the dissolution of Parliament could not take place within 60 days of the first failed vote of confidence in a new government. This provided ample time for an anti-Basescu coalition to start and complete the suspension procedures in time to install a Prime Ministerial candidate of their own choosing. Their goal, he said, would not be to permanently remove Basescu--who would likely return again through a referendum vote--but rather to seize the Presidential powers for one month. He added that the PD-L was exploring how to make such a move "too costly" to contemplate. Asked whether the PSD could in turn claim the mandate to nominate a Prime Ministerial candidate if it took more parliamentary seats than the PD-L, Chiritoiu paused and assented, but insisted that it was still unlikely that PSD head Geoana would realize his hopes of becoming Prime Minister. Geoana's opponents in the PSD (including former President Iliescu and ex-Prime Minister Nastase) would more likely maneuver to offer the Prime Ministership to Tariceanu in order to deny Geoana a chance to become Prime Minister, he said.
10. (C) Comment: A lietmotif that emerged in much of Chiritoiu's conversation was frustration that while the PD-L had learned some lessons from the recent local and municipal elections, his party had done little to assimilate these lessons or to put as much energy into coalition-building as their rivals have. Chiritoiu was quite evidently frustrated, too, at the party's lethargic pace in formally announcing it's candidate for Prime Minister, underscoring perhaps that it is not just Blaga who was insufficiently hungry for the job, but perhaps the rest of the party as well. While PSD contacts including parliamentary whip Hrebenciuc have confirmed to us that suspension of the President remains an active option, they claim that that they would do this only as a last resort, that is, if Basescu ignores any election result that gives his opponents a parliamentary majority. End Comment.