Cablegate: Early Elections? Basescu Convenes Senior Political Leaders
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 001557
DEPT FOR EUR/NCE - WILLIAM SILKWORTH
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/12/2015
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM SOCI RO
SUBJECT: EARLY ELECTIONS? BASESCU CONVENES SENIOR POLITICAL LEADERS
REF: A. A) BUCHAREST 1529 B. B) BUCHAREST 1521 C. C) BUCHAREST 1511 D. D) BUCHAREST 1433
Classified By: POLITICAL SECTION CHIEF ROBERT GILCHRIST FOR REASONS 1.4 B AND D
1.(C) Summary. President Traian Basescu convened senior politicians from both the opposition and governing parties late July 12 to discuss options following the July 7 announced resignation of Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu and his cabinet. Although some Embassy contacts hold out the possibility that new elections will not take place, the majority continues to place odds in favor of an early poll. Tariceanu has announced that his decision to resign is "firm and irrevocable." Although clearly unenthusiastic, the EU has sent signals that snap elections would not necessarily be incompatible with Romania's hopes to accede in 2007. End Summary.
President Convenes Key Players
2.(C) President Basescu called a meeting of senior political leaders at 1700 on July 12 to fulfill his constitutional role as "mediator" between state powers. This follows the July 7 announcement by Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu and his government that they would resign, ostensibly in response to a Constitutional Court decision negating several key components of the government's judicial reform package (refs a and b). According to Embassy contacts, Basescu convened at the meeting the Prime Minister and other key cabinet members, the presidents of both chambers of parliament, the leaders of the political party parliamentary factions, and representatives from the Constitutional Court. The meeting was expected to continue throughout the evening.
3.(C) Basescu's intentions for the meeting remain unclear, although Presidential Advisor Bogdan Chiritoiu told PolChief that Basescu was merely fulfilling what he saw as his constitutional obligation to consult with key powers. With so many big players in one room, Chiritoiu expressed his personal opinion that it was unlikely there would be any definitive answer on elections. Nonetheless, he opined, elections still appear to be "the likely option." Chiritoiu pointed out - as many contacts have in recent days - that the key issue is whether the PNL-PD can secure a voting majority to force an early vote.
Tariceanu Firm on Resignation, PNL-PD Barges Ahead
4.(C) In an attempt to quell press reports that he was reconsidering his decision to resign, PM Tariceanu's office issued a press release July 11 asserting that his decision to quit is "firm and irrevocable." The actual date of his departure from office is uncertain but many GOR contacts believe it will occur Monday, July 18 after Tariceanu returns from a trip to Brussels to conduct meetings related to Romania's EU accession.
5.(C) Meanwhile, leaders of the National Liberal-Democratic Party (PNL-PD) center-right Alliance are resolved to move ahead with snap elections, several PNL-PD sources told PolOffs. Most insiders concur that a likely date for new elections would be mid-October, with Tariceanu publicly stating that the elections would take place prior to the October 23 release of the EU Country Report on Romania - this would point most squarely toward Sunday, October 16.
6.(C) Over the next several days, the government is resolved to pass emergency legislation to reform Romanian electoral law. Proposed changes would include limiting the electoral campaign period to two weeks, establishing a mandatory voter i.d. card, and increasing the number of locations overseas where expatriate Romanians could vote. The voter identity card provision reflects PNL-PD allegations that the former ruling center-left Social Democratic Party (PSD) organized widespread fraud in which single voters voted in multiple locations (so called "electoral tourism") in last fall's parliamentary and presidential elections. The PNL-PD also favors expanding opportunities for overseas voters since a sizeable majority of expatriate Romanians tends to favor the center-right. Another possible change under discussion would be to reduce the parliamentary access percentage from five to four or three percent, making it easier for smaller parties to enter parliament.
Who Wants New Elections and Why
7.(C) Influential PNL deputy Cristian Boureanu told PolOff July 12 that until last week many within the PNL's leadership opposed or had major reservations about new elections, fearing in part that PNL's overall "weight" within the Alliance would diminish compared with the PD. However, PNL's leaders held a lengthy debate early July 7, in which they agreed to join PD leaders (who had already agreed to back new elections) in supporting new elections. According to other opposition sources, PNL and PD leaders have grown increasingly frustrated in the past several months by PSD attempts to block PNL-PD initiatives. As Boureanu observed, without new elections that would provide the Alliance a clear parliamentary majority "we won't be able to do what we promised" during the campaign "even though we will try to move ahead with reforms, especially economic reforms."
8.(C) Boureanu confirmed that the PNL and PD have agreed to divide deputies equally between the two parties within a new parliament, observing that PD "has the leader (Basescu) and we don't have the national leader" who can attract votes. He also noted that PNL-PD are entering this period of political uncertainty with "much confidence" - "we have 65 percent approval ratings but only 35 percent of parliament."
9.(C) Numerous contacts have commented to post that the PSD remains "disorganized and divided by internal dissent." According to media sources, PSD leader Mircea Geoana favors new elections as an opportunity to weed out PSD deputies who remain loyal to former President Ion Iliescu and the party's "old guard." However, UK Ambassador told Charge that Chamber of Deputy president and former PM Adrian Nastase told him the PSD would very much to avoid elections. (Note: Nastase stands to lose much with early elections, including his key position within the parliamentary leadership. End Note.)
What about the Hungarians?
10.(C) The ethnic Hungarian party (UDMR) leadership, meanwhile, is debating whether to urge the PNL-PD to move ahead with plans to adopt emergency legislation to lower the threshold for entrance into Parliament. Privately, UDMR leaders are worried that the party may not be able to garner five percent in elections, especially if the campaign lasts only two weeks, vice one month as in past elections. UDMR Senator Peter Eckstein-Kovacs told EmbOff that the UDMR does not like the idea of new elections but must "go along with the tide" since the opinions of small parties like the UDMR and Conservative Party (PC) "no longer matter."
11.(C) Comment. Following an initial flurry of excitement after the government's announced resignation on July 7, the political parties and many in the media are now wondering what comes next. Basescu's recently expressed reservations about the desirability of new elections have cast some doubts (ref D). However, he is on record repeatedly and strongly calling for an early poll. As one senior journalist told Poloff, "elections are likely, but nothing is certain in Romanian politics."
12.Comment Continued: The UK Ambassador signaled to Charge that while the EU is "not thrilled" with the prospect of new elections, it will "not stand in the way." Meanwhile, local press reported that head of the EU Commission Enlargement Department Fabrizio Barbaso told Tariceanu July 11 that the EU "does not interfere in internal politics of member countries," stressing that Romania's EU accession in 2007 is "still possible." End Comment.
13.(U) Amembassy Bucharest,s reporting telegrams are available on the Bucharest SIPRNET Website: www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/bucharest