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Cablegate: Before a Half-Empty Parliament, Basescu Proposes

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

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

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

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