Cablegate: Romania Election Update: The Man Who Would Be

DE RUEHBM #0799/01 3360857
R 020857Z DEC 09




E.O. 12958: N/A


BUCHAREST 00000799 001.2 OF 003

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Though a former Romanian Ambassador to
Washington and former Foreign Minister, Social Democratic
Party (PSD) presidential candidate Mircea Geoana has focused
much more on domestic issues and party politics since
becoming PSD Chairman in 2005. This cable profiles Geoana,s
political career, while reftel assessed the foreign policy
approach of a future Geoana presidency and septel will
explore the nature of Geoana,s associations with the
powerful PSD dealmakers and oligarchs who are supposedly
behind his political rise to power. END SUMMARY.


2. (SBU) Mircea Geoana first took the stage as a major player
in Romanian politics in February 1996 when then-President Ion
Iliescu (PSD) sent him to Washington to represent Romania as
Ambassador to the United States, where he quickly acquired a
reputation as a pro-active, effective diplomat. At 37 Geoana
was the youngest person ever named ambassador by the Romanian
government. When Iliescu was defeated by the center-right
Emil Constantinescu nine months later, Geoana quickly changed
horses. In a congratulatory fax to President-elect
Constantinescu on election night, which has never been made
public, Geoana allegedly described Constantinescu,s victory
as the "triumph of democracy" and expressed his joy at seeing
Iliescu, the "cancer of Romanian society," gone forever.
Geoana the politician had been born.

3. (SBU) Geoana reinvented himself once more in December 2000
after the PSD and Iliescu were victorious both in
parliamentary and presidential elections, somehow convincing
Iliescu to overlook the past betrayal and name Geoana as
Foreign Minister. In 2001 Geoana joined the PSD, having
previously been barred from party membership as a career
diplomat. While Geoana won accolades for his performance as
the country,s chief diplomat, his first step into electoral
politics was a flop. In June 2004, then Prime Minister and
PSD chairman Adrian Nastase, jealous of Geoana,s rising
national star, sent him to run against incumbent Bucharest
Mayor Traian Basescu. Geoana suffered a humiliating defeat.
His attempts to pass as a blue collar populist, rubber boots
and all, running against the flamboyant Traian Basescu who
had just exploded on the national scene, still elicit smiles.
Geoana,s image as a wonkish, ungifted campaigner was born,
as was his personal dislike and distrust of Traian Basescu.

4. (SBU) Geoana survived this first bruising experience with
real politics. After Nastase lost the presidency to Basescu
in December 2004 and the party went into opposition, PSD
strategists realized they needed to shed their reputation for
corruption which polling showed had lost them the elections.
After Geoana gave a fiery, pro-reform speech at the PSD
convention, both reformists and old-guard party leaders (even
Nastase) saw Mircea Geoana as the perfect vehicle. The
reformists hoped Geoana could truly help modernize the party;
the old guard bet that they could use him as a front to erase
the corruption label without giving up any real power.
Geoana became party chairman, while Nastase was named
"executive chairman" and PSD stalwart Miron Mitrea secretary
general. Geoana promised to be a "good listener" and a "team

5. (SBU) Geoana,s efforts at a party makeover in 2005 had
more to do with changing the party,s image with the outside
world than with any meaningful reforms. The Revolution of
the Good, a reformist petition drive aimed at controlling the
political elite by switching to a unicameral Parliament and a
single-mandate electoral system went nowhere. The local,
mostly rural chapters of the post-communist party could not
relate to - much less identify with - their new chairman, a
self-described "Third Way Social Democrat" who quoted from
British PM Blair,s adviser Anthony Giddens. Politicians and
pundits alike soon began to make bets as to how long Geoana
would survive as national chairman.

6. (SBU) After the National Anti-Corruption Department (DNA)
launched a high-profile corruption investigation against
former PM Nastase, Geoana forced Nastase to resign his
positions as PSD executive chairman and Chamber of Deputies
Speaker. Nastase then joined Iliescu as the leaders of an
anti-Geoana, anti-reform camp within PSD. Geoana managed to
hold on to his position as PSD national chairman at an
emergency convention called in December 2006, but only by
agreeing to cede power to local party bosses and abandon any
plans for reform. The Party's decentralized decision-making
brought the local bosses into the national party leadership.

BUCHAREST 00000799 002.2 OF 003

Geoana justified his capitulation by saying that the time had
come to prepare for the next elections, rather than focus on
reform. He also moved to reconcile with former President
Iliescu, naming him the party,s honorary chairman.

7. (SBU) In mid-2007 Geoana,s PSD chairmanship was once
again in jeopardy after a failed PSD-sponsored drive to
remove President Basescu from office, a drive engineered by
Ion Iliescu and Viorel Hrebenciuc. A second failure quickly
followed, when a PSD no-confidence motion against the
government of then PM Calin Tariceanu (National Liberal Party
- PNL), failed largely because PSD,s Senate caucus leader
Ion Iliescu did not want to alienate PNL. Geoana,s
chairmanship was further weakened following PSD,s
comparatively poor results in the November 2007 accession
elections to the European Parliament. There were great
doubts that Geoana could survive the upcoming 2008 elections.

8. (SBU) By 2008, Geoana had become adept at the balancing
act that had kept him in power, though perhaps not fully in
the driver,s seat, as national chairman of Romania,s
largest party. In February 2008, Adrian Nastase ) with the
support of Ion Iliescu - returned as chairman of the party,s
National Council. In 2008, Geoana ran for and won a Senate
seat from a rural district, triggering criticism that he
feared facing sophisticated urban voters. In December 2008
he took the PSD into a governing alliance with Basescu,s
party, the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL), over the fierce
opposition of Nastase and Iliescu but backed by most local
party barons, who were eager to get back in government. In
May 2009 the party formally nominated Geoana as its
presidential candidate. Iliescu blessed Geoana,s candidacy
at the formal filing ceremony. By now, the number of those
willing to bet on Geoana,s always imminent demise had
considerably shrunk.


9. (SBU) When Geoana took over the PSD chairmanship in 2005,
he was politically ill-prepared to manage the ponderous,
centralized party that Nastase had previously ruled with an
iron fist. As a politician, he lacked both the common touch
and the popularity of Ion Iliescu and the firm authority of
Adrian Nastase. PSD leaders and the rank and file alike
looked with jealous eyes upon their rival Traian Basescu and
wished for a similarly charismatic leader. While Basescu has
served as an electoral engine for his party, Geoana
personally has always polled below PSD,s popularity as a
party. In an organization used to hierarchical, top-down
management, Geoana,s early, loose leadership style did not
win respect or allies. He found it difficult to implement
his promised reforms, which few national party leaders really
supported anyway. In the face of the national leaders, not
so subtle hostility, Geoana chose to rely on local party
bosses to prop up his chairmanship and break Bucharest,s
hold on the party. Since he himself had little hands-on
political experience as strategist or campaigner, Geoana
gradually came to rely on old party hands like caucus leader
Viorel Hrebenciuc and to admire the party,s top vote getters
and campaigners, the local party bosses. This reliance on
local bosses led Geoana into the coalition with PDL in order
to win patronage and funds for the local party chapters.
Iliescu, Nastase and the older generation opposed the
coalition but Geoana saw that the party was cash poor and
could not afford to remain in opposition for long. The once
inexperienced Geoana weighed the risks of association with
the President,s party against the financial benefits of
joining the government and chose to side with his new allies,
the local party officials. This gamble would pay dividends
in the first round of presidential elections on November 22,

10. (SBU) Geoana continually made compromises, which though
not furthering his political goals did cement his position as
party leader. On Geoana,s watch, the party became more
democratic. Critics portrayed his attempts to allow for
multiple voices within the party as an inability to control
the organization. However, these changes made allies out of
the local leaders and eroded the power of the national party
bosses. Geoana has mediated between the many interest groups
within the party and has made sure he is always on the
winning side of internal debates. While the local bosses
have publicly expressed confidence that they could control a
Geoana presidency, Geoana,s time as party chairman has shown
that he may yet surprise them. What they see as weakness has
often been only a delaying tactic as he looks for new sources
of strength.

BUCHAREST 00000799 003.2 OF 003


11. (SBU) Geoana has not yet transformed the PSD from
post-communism to a true social democratic party, and so far
there is no critical mass of party leaders behind such a
move. PSD,s original core constituency of old, poorly
educated voters remains mostly the same, though smaller in
number. Despite Geoana,s own better draw in urban areas,
the party as a whole has not connected with young urbanites.
His campaign platform is a hodgepodge of grandiose promises
including handouts and breaks for everyone, although he does
at least acknowledge the financial crisis. He would address
major issues by creating formal panels to study them: a
National Commission for Attracting EU Funds, a National Pact
for Jobs, Training, and Social Protection, etc. The word
reform is barely even mentioned in his electoral platform.
Nor has he displayed interest in supporting, much less
initiating, unpopular reforms. His campaign has focused on
his skills as a uniter, in contrast to Basescu the divider.

12. (SBU) Critics reproach Geoana for his flip-flopping,
populism, indecisiveness, and lack of substance. He himself
recently acknowledged that his late entry into politics had
caused him to be awkward many times in the past. In a party
where diplomatic skills were thought of little use, Geoana
never really thought to capitalize on his strengths but
instead tried to adapt to what he thought others wanted,
resulting in his current conflicted public persona. Former
associates criticize his jealous nature (trying to sideline
most domestic political rivals), excessive ambition and
ingratitude. To some, he is an implausible hybrid of
American mechanics (he is always scripted) and Romanian moral
flexibility (bending his ideology to fit political
expediency). Both Iliescu and Basescu have more recently
admitted that Geoana has made "good progress" as a
politician, backhanded praise at best. Iliescu had famously
labeled him as a "fool," while Basescu would burst into
laughter whenever asked whether he would nominate Geoana
Prime Minister in 2008. PSD renegade and independent
presidential candidate Sorin Oprescu recently noted: "I
looked into Mr. Geoana,s eyes and saw nothing there."

© Scoop Media

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