Wednesday, 19 November 2014

What will Victor Ponta do next?

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What will happen in Romania next, after the surprise election of Klaus Iohannis (his name is really Johannis) as President?

First we have to see if the Supreme Court rules in a case in which Mr. Iohannis is accused by the National Integrity Commission of having not declared a conflict of interest in a slightly arcane matter in his capacity as Mayor of Sibiu. The court could rule against Mr. Iohannis and rule that he is unfit to be president. I can’t see it happening. It is more likely that they will adjourn the case until he becomes president, when he will have immunity from prosecution. This is what they did with a case in which the current President Traian Basescu is accused of corruption in connection with selling off the Romanian navy.

What will happen to Victor Ponta, who lost the presidency to almost everyone’s surprise?
Nothing, for the time being. He will continue being Prime Minister, despite the change of president. It is the Government not the president that rules Romania. Like his mentor Adrian Nastase, who was the PSD candidate for the presidency ten years ago (and who is now out on parole), Victor Ponta never wanted to be president and wanted to continue as prime minister. So everything is peachy. Except it’s not.

Victor Ponta though a clever man is not leader of the Social Democrat party (PSD) or Prime Minister because of his own strength of personality or sheer stature. He is not what in British politics is called a big beast of the jungle. Only two Romanian politicians really qualify for that description: Ion Iliescu, who overthrew Ceausescu and had him shot, and Traian Basescu. Victor Ponta, by contrast, was chosen as a young (too young to have been a communist) and telegenic front man for the PSD.

For those who do not follow Romanian politics, I should explain that the PSD is not a political party in the sense understood in Western Europe. It is the continuation of the old Communist Party by other means and without the left-wing ideology. It is not monolithic or genuinely national but is a federation of parties organised in each Romanian county. Each country organisation is in effect a business, a conspiracy or, if we are to call spades spades, a criminal network. Mr. Ponta is leader as long as he can balance the competing interests of the leaders of the party in the countries (the so called ‘barons’) and offer them a chance of winning the 2016 parliamentary election.

Mr. Ponta said that any PSD candidate for the presidency would get 40% of the votes. It was up to him to get another 10%. The fact that Mr. Ponta won only 45% of the votes and therefore lost the presidency does not mean he cannot lead his party to victory in 2016. The way he lost Sunday’s election probably does. 

Victor Ponta fought a very old-fashioned campaign that seemed to be tailored to the unsophisticated, nationalistic Romanian electorate of the early 1990s, offering pension increases and public works. Playing the racial and religious cards against his German Protestant opponent is what everyone would expect him to do, though it seems to have been ineffective. No one was surprised by his shameless campaign to bribe electors with public money Electoral fraud which may have stolen up to 900,000 votes has not made a big impact here, through it certainly should have done. But the sight of very long queues of Romanians outside embassies and consulates, queueing all day in the cold, in many cases never to be allowed to vote, were crucial for winning the election for Mr. Iohannis and will permanently tarnish Mr. Ponta’s image. And these things happened not only on Sunday but in the first round of the election two weeks before. They happened because the diaspora is overwhelmingly opposed to the PSD. Those people were not queueing all day to vote for Victor Ponta. Mr. Ponta defended the way in which voting took place abroad on television in his debates with Mr. Iohannis. The contempt for the viewing public was unmistakable.

Remember that Mr. Ponta was discovered to have plagiarised his doctoral thesis. Then there are lurid, melodramatic allegations on the net about his connection with a young prosecutor who committed suicide back in 2002, while investigating Adrian Nastase. If I held stocks in Mr. Ponta I should sell them. That is what the barons are thinking too.


16 comments:

  1. For the time being, it seems that he is on medical leave, he was diagnosed with Klaustrophoby :) Valentin Nas

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  2. That's a pretty brilliant summary of the situation Paul!, Peter Hurley

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  3. It's very hard to see the PSD recovering from this. The old guard tactics don't work any more and the new guard just got spectacularly rejected . PSD can only move forward if there is a complete re-structure in the way they operate. This will take about another 25 years.

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  4. It's pretty entertaining too watch them panicking now. All sorts of attacks coming from inside the party, voting down the amnesty law, removing immunity for senators and MPs. If only they had done this before the election, they might have even won the election. Mr Ponta's vacation until Monday doesn't bode well for him. He needs to work on the budget and figure out how he's going to pay for all the electoral promises, how he's going to cover all the money diverted from the budget for his campaign. I can't wait!

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    1. I imagine he needs a short break. He will have his work cut out soon enough paying for all the expensive things he's promised.

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  5. :) nobody would buy at this stage ...

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  6. Just for conformity, Adrian Nastase is free, on parole.

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    1. Thank you for correcting me.

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    2. The Zeitgiest is Hedonism and Anarchy and that is widespread. Ponta was too haughty.

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  7. Very well seen, with one observation: criminal networks are common for other parties not just the PSD. All parties left or right have barons, and neither have a clear left or right ideology or doctrine.

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    1. Yes, agreed. Though the PSD is a bigger older more entrenched organisation and unlike the other parties commands tribal loyalty. Mr. Ponta said any PSD candidate for the presidency automatically wins 40% of the vote.

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  8. I guess that'd be a good idea for him to hire a good team of solicitors and barristers because he will badly need them.

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  9. What will the Romanian Prime Minister do next? Will he prepare and submit for Parliament's approval the extremely urgent and much delayed 2015 budget? (in which, by the way, everybody is eager to see the income sources needed to cover the 15 billion lei electoral bribes that Ponta offered in order to buy the necessary votes). No, I'll tell you what he'll do: he'll take a vacation, he probably needs one after losing the election. But guess where he'll take that vacation: in Dubai, where accommodation for one night probably costs the equivalent of the average pension for a year or so (since he talked about how he wants to support the poor old Romanians bla... bla...). And did he travel there alone? No, he is accompanied by his best friend Sebastian Ghita, owner of Romania TV, the channel which, along with Antena 3, poured the worst lies and calumnies against Iohannis during the campaign. Ghita is also a PSD deputy and a very successful businessman, having made tons of money from exclusively contracts with the Romanian state (a friend like the PM counts a lot in winning public auctions). I am hardly waiting for the DNA (anti-corruption prosecutors) to start working on Ghita, as well. Oh, and you know what else the Romanian Prime Minister is doing now? He's watching the Abu Dhabi F1 race (not on the TV, but from the first row) and negotiating a Romanian F1 team which would be funded with public funds! (Oops, he will have to include that in the budget proposal as well...)
    Vali N.

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