Thursday 20 November 2014

Victor Ponta and Traian Basescu were allies in the election


Romanian President Traian Basescu, who is on the centre-right, and his Social Democrat Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, appear to loathe each other and probably do so, but they do deals from time to time. I don’t know whether they met to discuss their strategy in the presidential elections but they were de facto allies against the main centre-right candidate, Klaus Iohannis, who on Sunday unexpectedly won a comfortable victory.

The reason for this unholy alliance was that, although in Romanian presidential elections only two candidates go forward into the second and final round of voting, held a fortnight after the first round, it is very important which candidate comes third. Traian Basescu as President is not permitted to have any party affiliation but he was represented in the election by his great protégée and favourite Elena Udrea. Mr. Basescu’s idea was that Mrs. Udrea would come third and take most of the voters who like Mr. Basescu with her. They come to over 15% of the electorate. In the 2016 elections the PSD would control the presidency, the parliament and the government and Mr. Basescu, as he imagined it, could be the opposition. But this idea was ruined when, to his great annoyance, Monica Macovei stood as an independent candidate. She is the former Minister of Justice who deserves the credit for making Romania’s previously infamously corrupt courts relatively clean. 

She has been a great admirer of President Basescu and would have made a very effective leader for Mr. Basescu’s constituency but Mr. Basescu is devoted to, even besotted with, Mrs. Udrea. In this way the Basescu vote was split. 

Elena Udrea

Everyone agreed, by the way, that neither woman stood a chance of being president because Romanians will not be ready for a woman president for a long time to come.

Meanwhile the PSD had done a deal with the former National Liberal Prime Minister Catalin Tariceanu, who now leads a splinter party. He is the man who sacked Mrs. Macovei as soon as Romania had safely entered the EU in 2007. He was drafted in by the PSD to stand for president in order to take votes from Klaus Iohannis.

It was important for the PSD that Mr. Tariceanu came third so that President Ponta could appoint him Prime Minister as a gesture of inclusivity intended to garner support from people who voted for the main centre right parties that backed Klaus Iohannis. Mrs. MacoveI threatened to wreck this plan too.

On the morning of the first round exit polls – these are published throughout election day here - showed her gathering an unexpectedly high 8% of the vote, not nearly enough to get into the second round but easily enough to take the prestigious third place. This for an independent candidate with no party organization or powerful backers would have been a very great achievement and made her a big force to be reckoned with for the next few years.

In the afternoon and evening something remarkable happened. The exit polls showed her support dropping off and falling to somewhat over 4%. 

This is remarkable because it is a given that left-wing voters vote early (the left is the rural party and in the countryside people wake early). Right-wing voters tend to lie in bed and vote later. Why did this not happen this time? Nobody knows, but the suspicion cannot be suppressed that the vote was tampered with to ensure Mr. Tariceanu took third place, as he did.

So far all went more or less to plan for the PSD though they had expected to win more votes in the first round. All was set for Victor Ponta to be President and to have a nominally liberal and centre right Prime Minister Catalin Tariceanu. This was the plan that was hatched a year ago but, as we know, it was not to be…

Most of Mr. Tariceanu’s voters ignored his advice to vote for Mr. Ponta and voted for Mr. Iohannis, who took the presidency by a comfortable margin of 10% of the votes. Mrs. Udrea told people to vote against Mr. Ponta but on Saturday it was reported that she was neutral. On Sunday she appeared unexpectedly in Paris of all places standing in the queue to vote at the embassy. The Hungarians voted for the German and so did a lot of previously undecided voters. Almost every one of the 400,000 members of the diaspora queuing outside consulates and embassies had several people in Romania they were close to and whom they may have urged to vote –  for 
Klaus Iohannis. Some Romanians abroad told their parents that they would not send any more money home unless they voted for him.

Mr. Ponta lost badly, but not he only. His party lost badly, of course, even though it is still the government. A lot of people who fear investigation by the anti-corruption prosecutors (DNA) know that they may lose very badly indeed. Mrs. Udrea lost fairly badly and will soon have to manage without presidential protection. She has already been interviewed by the DNA. Mr. Basescu, I suggest, lost and so did Mr. Melescanu who gave up running the secret service to be Foreign Minister and resigned five days later because of his failure to arrange enough stamps to allow the diaspora to vote. 

He said it was a resignation of honour but before Sunday's election he had said the law did not permit him to enable people to vote quickly. He will come back. He always does. He also stood for the presidency as a stalking horse to draw away centre-right votes but later the PSD decided Mr Tariceanu was a more useful feint.

Mrs. Macovei backed Klaus Iohannis and it will be interesting to see what the future has in store for her. She didn't lose, even if some of her votes were lost, and, of course, nor did the parties representing the 7% Hungarian minority, who voted for Mr. Iohannis. Whoever wins or loses, the Hungarians always win. A German president is the nearest thing to a Hungarian president that they can hope for, so they may feel that they won big.

Almost everyone I talk to thinks that Romania has won, including some who are connected to the PSD by ties of consanguinity or interest. Romanians, who have a collective father complex, tend to look for a providential figure to rescue them and the President-elect looks providential. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, people are hoping. Let's see.


  1. Great stuff, Paul, and I largely agree with your analysis. Now the interesting question is what Ponta will do next. I suspect that he may return from his "vacation" having suffered a blinding revelation on the road to Damascus, renounce the PSD and all its works and retire to a quiet life working as Traian Basescu's gardener - but that may be just a tad fanciful ...

    1. My friend Alexander Fuhrmann said to me tonight that Iohannis will change Romania's soul. Nastase and Ponta represented the ugly quarrelsome side of Romania.

  2. Paul, your political analysis is generally very good and among the best on the internet. However, you often let your prejudices affect your judgment. Here's an example:

    "Everyone agreed, by the way, that neither woman stood a chance of being president because Romanians will not be ready for a woman president for a long time to come"

    Rubbish. Another appeal to nasty stereotypes that make Romanians look like intolerant little children. Two days ago it was about Romanians being racist and anti-Semitic. Many Romanians are, but many Romanians are also remarkably tolerant, as this election has showed when many Western Europeans asserted that those Romanians would never vote for a non-Orthodox.

    If Macovei had had the support of one of the three great political machines, do you really think her being a "woman" would be an issue?

    Nonsense. I'm rather tired of Romanians being portrayed as bigoted bumpkins.


  3. I thought this was a perspicacious article. Basescu was mad to bet so heavily on Madame Udrea, but he had some shrewd interventions in the campaign; what you said about M Macovei's voting figures perhaps being manipulated is new to me; but most of Tariceanu's supporters backed Ponta in round 2.

    Iohannis's biggest challenge will be in knocking his own side into shape. he needs new blood and not recycled driftwood. I hope he is thinking about how to upgrade the currently moribund centre-right.



    1. Most people - certainly most people in the old PD - assumed Mrs Udrea and the President are very emotionally attached. I was told that the PNL found that the majority of votes for Tariceanu went to Iohannis in the second round. Did you read that it was otherwise?.

  4. Alexander Fuhrmann20 November 2014 at 22:41

    Paul, I agree with most of your points and analisys, would only like to say that what I meant tonight was that Iohannis will bring out, (or make manifest) another side of the Romaninan soul or spirit, or a better side of it, not that it will change the Romanian soul. That will not change so lightly.

    1. Yes I wrote hastily. Countries do have souls. This was something agreed by everyone in 18th century England and is still true,

  5. I disagree. Basescu has always been against Ponta. My impression was that Basescu supporting Udrea was a great way for him to distance himself from Iohannis. Ponta's main attack against Iohannis was that he would appoint Basescu as a prime-minister and it would just be a continuation of the Basescu-regime. But Basescu could say, look, I wanted Udrea president, I don't care about this Iohannis guy. Any explicit support Basescu would have given Iohannis would have been a negative. Many people hate Basescu, even people who used to be on the "right". They would have only voted for Iohannis if he was actually a change from Basescu. I know many many people who voted against Iohannis because they hate Basescu.

    Basescu gave a great interview on TV in the Spring saying "Ponta will never be President, this is my main electoral interest until the election".

    Then his allegations right before the election that Ponta was a spy, the silly video released the Friday right before the election showing a "kitten" Ponta, very deferential to the President, etc. Basescu hates Ponta.

    1. Ponta will allude that the election result was what "America wanted.!" I can not help but think his style of Politics is more "in tune", or suited, to the current Political Climate. If he survives this he will prove himself a champion of sorts. And he should.

  6. Basescu is a difficult man to read. I think his election preferences would have been guided by a strategy to minimize his personal legal jeopardy. Then again, I think there is a streak in him which says "Bring it on!" After all, he has advocated a "rule of law" line so long now, which has even ensnared his own brother, that I think he actually believes what he says.
    Ion Antonescu faced a firing squad. Would Basescu be man enough to do the same (metaphorically)?

    1. He might, in the 90s he gave up his immunity so he could be investigated in the "Flota" case. Completely unprecedented at the time.

  7. Since it does not speak Romanian, this author is heavily dependent on what is told by the Romanian and other friends who understand the language.

    This does not always lead to good results for the reliability of information.

    The text contains many correct elements, but also baseless speculation, gossip, false information.

    Some examples:
    - It is absurd and groundless saying that Ponta and Basescu "were allied against the de facto center-right candidate, Klaus Iohannis"

    - "exit polls – these are published throughout election day here" this is simply untrue; exit polls are published in the very second goal when the voting is closed, i.e. 21 hours.

    - "Mrs. Udrea has already been interviewed by the DNA" - it never happened

    For what it may matter, I was an engaged supporter of Macovei, voting for Johannis in the second round.

  8. Udrea has been indeed heard by DNA as a wittnes. My bad.

    1. De ce nu credeti ca pot sa vorbeasc limba romana?

      Exit polls were published throughout the day on Sunday. I read them. I wonder about the reliability of your information.

      'It is absurd and groundless saying that Ponta and Basescu "were allied against the de facto centre right candidate, Klaus Iohannis"' - please engage with my arguments. It is not enough just to say they are absurd and groundless. I gave grounds. And there wasnt of course a literal alliance. I spoke in metaphor, self-evidently. I consider that Israel and Saudi Arabia are allies but I self-evidently do not mean in the full sense of the word allies (think NATO).

    2. For the benefit of non-native English speakers (possibly including Americans), Paul would be describing "strange bedfellows".

  9. Mr. Wood,
    I do not intend to let me drawn into arguing on self-evident facts.

    The Romanian media and public space are dominated by spin-doctors systematically breaking common sense. As it appears, this has contaminated everyone living here. Decent persons don’t argue about common sense just for the sake of debating. Engaging in “exchanging arguments” upon self-evidence is condoning lies and manipulation.

    However, just two words on this.

    Never ever in his entire political career has Băsescu done or said something in favour of Ponta and he always had a very strong stance against him, in everything he said or did. The last action against Ponta was on Friday the 14th, last day of the campaign, when Băsescu very vigorously called all his followers to vote against Ponta – an uncommon strong gesture even for this uncommon President.

    It is nevertheless true that in the Romanian media speculations circulated about Băsescu having an “objective interest” in Ponta becoming the new President, which would have given him the opportunity of profiling himself as the only true opposition leader. However, these were but groundless speculations, electoral propaganda-spinning, intoxications for the use of the ignorant and naïve.

    Actually, it was this kind of blatant propaganda-spinning, building on the stupidity of the masses, which proved fatal for the PSD.

    What you heard/read every two hours on the elections day were the official communiqués of the “Birou Electoral Central” about the vote participation – how many people have voted up to the respective moment. As the name indicates, exit-polls are random surveys at the exit of the ballot station, in order to ascertain the vote outcome. Of course, making public the ballot estimation (i.e. how many votes for which candidate) during the ballot process is forbidden by law. It belongs to the electoral show the “magic” moment at precisely 21 hours, when estimations of all polling houses are made public. In this sense, your phrase “exit polls – these are published throughout election day here” apart from being technically false, has for me a derogatory undertone.

  10. I followed the election over the day on the net and periodically read what were called 'exit polls'. There is no contradiction between Mr Basescu loathing Mr Ponta and his having an objective interest in Mr. Ponta winning but I am not in the President's confidence. Nor are you. But astute politicians act on several levels at the same time. I think Mr Iohannis is the man to carry on Mr Basescu's great legacy by protecting the DNA and allowing the DNA team to continue their work.

  11. i like tha last images with her.shes a real politician sucking beach/