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Cablegate: Romania Election Update: Timisoara Coalition Agreement

VZCZCXRO7907
RR RUEHIK
DE RUEHBM #0808 3381404
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 041404Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0135
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS BUCHAREST 000808

SENSITIVE, SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/CE ASCHEIBE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV RO

SUBJECT: Romania Election Update: Timisoara Coalition Agreement
Sparks Protests

1. (SBU) Summary: On December 1, the Social Democratic Party (PSD),
the National Liberal Party (PNL), and the small, anti-communist
National Christian Democratic Peasants' Party (PNTCD) signed a
"Partnership for Timisoara," whose main provision is joint support
for PSD presidential candidate Mircea Geoana in the December 6
runoff. Their use of the historical main square in Timisoara -
where the 1989 Revolution began - triggered anti-PSD demonstrations
in Timisoara itself, Bucharest, and several other Romanian cities.
PDL denied any involvement in organizing the protests, while PSD and
PNL warned that the protests may be precursors of post-election
street disturbances orchestrated by Basescu and PDL. End Summary.

HEATED RHETORIC AND PROTESTS

2. (SBU) On December 1, Romania's National Day, PNL chairman Crin
Antonescu, PSD chairman and presidential candidate Mircea Geoana,
PNTCD chairman Radu Sarbu, Timisoara Mayor Gheorghe Ciuhandu
(PNTCD), and PSD-PNL's proposed Prime Minister and Sibiu Mayor Klaus
Iohannis signed a "Partnership for Timisoara" pledging support for
Geoana in the December 6 presidential runoff. In addition, the PSD
and PNTCD signed a separate agreement whereby the two parties commit
to a historical reconciliation and express their support for Geoana.
(Note: PNTCD (Peasants' Party) was a historical rival of the
communist party and its post-1989 successors, and Geoana had pushed
for the reconciliation to boost his image as a uniter. When
unveiling the PSD-PNTCD agreement, PNTCD's Radu Sarbu announced that
the late, revered PNTCD leader Corneliu Coposu would have blessed
it. Coposu was the leader of the PNTCD from 1989 until his death in
1995. He had spent 17 years in communist prisons and is unanimously
considered the symbol of anti-communism in post-1989 Romania. For
many Romanians, postulating his approval of a PSD partnership with
Timisoara, site of the first demonstrations in the 1989 Revolution,
amounts to taking his name in vain. A prominent participant in the
December 1989 Revolution, Ion Caramitru, resigned his PNTCD
membership to protest the reference to Coposu. End Note.) In their
addresses, political leaders described incumbent President Basescu
as a former member of the communist nomenklatura and said that
voting for Basescu was tantamount to voting for communism.

3. (U) The signing ceremony was followed by an election gathering in
the local opera house, relayed to the public by large screens hung
on the facade of the building. The PSD-PNL-PNTCD political leaders
had to cancel plans to address a group of PSD supporters brought
into the Opera Square after approximately 3,000 Timisoara residents
started a counter-demonstration in the plaza. Local police
separated the two groups and there were reports they used tear gas
to keep them apart. Geoana, Antonescu, and their companions left
the building through the backdoor amid boos, chants of "Down with
communism!" and cries for them to come out and face the crowd. Soon
afterwards, similar smaller-scale demonstrations started in
Bucharest, Brasov, Cluj, Targoviste and several other cities. All
ended peacefully.

4. (U) PSD and PNL leaders blamed Basescu's PDL for staging the
counter-demonstrations. PDL leaders and Basescu denied any
association, although several PDL leaders were reportedly spotted at
the gatherings. Antonescu and Geoana warned that the
counter-demonstrations could be a precursor to street disturbances
that Basescu and the PDL would engineer if they lost the election,
in order to pave the way for challenging the election outcome.

WHY THE FUSS?

5. (SBU) The multi-ethnic Western Romanian city of Timisoara was the
cradle of the 1989 Revolution and for many Romanians remains a
symbol of anti-communism. In memory of those events, a city
ordinance bans political gatherings in the Opera Square. Yet the
municipality allowed the display of a huge Geoana billboard on an
adjacent building, as well as a banner with the caption "Every 20
years we dump a dictator" (alluding to Basescu). Timisoara civil
society leaders described counter-demonstrators as angry over the
politicization of the revolution. Basescu, who in 2006 formally
condemned communism, remains popular in the region, while the PSD,
the modern-day successor to the communist party, is on much less
solid ground there.

COMMENT

6. (SBU) Independent observers characterized the Timisoara PSD-PNL
event as an ill-advised move, but it seems unlikely to sway
significant numbers of voters to switch sides. The extent to which
PDL helped orchestrate the protests remains unclear, but the PSD-PNL
insinuations that Timisoara was a PDL dress-rehearsal for
post-election disturbances seem dubious. This series of events,
meant to boost Geoana's image as a uniter, served only to further
polarize the electorate.
END COMMENT

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