TOP STORIESA Candidacy That May Be More Than Meets The Eye

BY GHITA SCORTAN
Ziarul BURSA #English Section / 17 mai 2004

The surprise nomination of the new PSD candidate for The Bucharest City Hall was not exactly a surprise to well-informed circles. A number of domestic political commentators believe that Mircea Geoana's candidacy not only reignites the electoral competition, which had seemed to be settled in favor of the incumbent mayor prior to Geoana's nomination, but also solves the problem of succession to the complex "driver's seat' of the ruling party.

Opinions will probably converge towards a viewpoint according to which the Magister Ludi (or Master of Games, for the non-Latin speakers), who is still in Cotroceni Palace, remains the most adroit political player yet. On the other hand, even if rumors are true, it does not mean that succession issues within PSD have been settled, but only that Mircea Geoana has been offered, in the form of his nomination for mayor of Bucharest, a window of opportunity to became a political player who may matter. This is it, for now! And this should be pointed out because, in his capacity as Foreign minister, the PSD candidate for mayor of Bucharest is just a dignitary who is popular, and who only now has the opportunity to show how much of this popularity can become credibility and therefore political capital substantial enough to matter in the domestic power play. It is up to Geoana to decide how to play his cards: will he be just another PSD candidate, like Oprescu was, or will he become one of PSD's big shots? For the time being, Mircea Geoana is not one of those who make the political games, neither within PSD nor elsewhere.

From this perspective, he is not a match for his archrival, Traian Basescu. Not only can Basescu compete with Geoana and stand good chances of emerging victorious, but he has also proven able to make the rules of the Bucharest local elections game: the stakes will not be administrative, but political. It was not the incumbent Premier and certainly not the PNL or PRM leaders who raised the stakes of the local elections. All they could do was adapt to a game dealt by Basescu. Indeed, Traian Basescu has wagered more than anyone else on the local elections in June and, through him, this party (PD) and his party's ally (PNL).

Proving a remarkable capacity to withstand PSD's attacks, Traian Basescu emerged victorious from every confrontation with the ruling party. His intuition, vast experience and, last but not least, political style make him a lot more than a quarrelsome sailor, as some describe him (he used to be a merchant ship captain). If PSD's campaign managers think that they can defeat Basescu just through an image battle, they had better think again. So had Mircea Geoana, if he fails to see beyond appearances, as he may soon discover that his opponent is more European than he cares to admit. Moreover, Basescu's popularity and credibility rely on the fact that he always speaks his mind, a mind that has many things in common with most Bucharesters' minds. This quality of his appears strong enough to help him win the delicate conflict sparked by The National Redemption Cathedral, as his standpoint on this issue so far has made him quite popular among the intelligentsia. Within this conflict, PSD, delicate as an elephant, pushed significant shares of the civil society onto Basescu's side, that is, those who feel that PSD disregards the wishes of the citizens of Bucharest. Moreover, disappointed with the dishonorable failure of the late CDR, intellectuals have now found a new banner to rally under: The DA Alliance. In other words, the wind is blowing in the sailor's sails from this direction, too, this time as a result of PSD's unintentional, but substantial, help. Nevertheless, there is a hole in his sails that may cost him dearly: his political style and conduct are too contentious for a modern day politician. Although the Bucharesters would have definitely supported him against the hostile City Council, he chose not to take on The Council and this is something that his main opponent could use to his great advantage.

While it is clear that the two competitors are of different caliber, the incumbent mayor having an obvious upper hand, the political future of whichever of them loses this confrontation is another matter... Many commentators feel that failure would bear little consequences on Mircea Geoana's career. It may be so. Another possible scenario is much more interesting. To Geoana, the local elections are an opportunity that may propel him upwards with his own party. However, if he chooses to preserve his individuality and identity within the intricate electoral marketing - which is costing PSD quite a bundle and is certainly controlled by PSD leaders - and manages to take advantage of the campaign to build his own political brand that would serve him in future irrespective of the outcome of the elections, we may witness the entrance of a new player in the exquisite and numerically small circle of political players of consequence.

But what does the electoral market demand that Mircea Geoana can supply? Polls indicate that people are waiting for a different kind of a politician, a kind that is completely different from the "lords'- that is, the best that Geoana's party has managed to come up with so far - who disregard citizens and treat public institutions as if they owned them... Who lurk in the outskirts of Europe and who have convinced the majority of Romanians that politics is a degraded form of human life. Mircea Geoana needs to convince voters that he is not that kind of a "Social Democrat' who rides in the backseat of a limo and throws pennies out to the paupers. He needs to prove that he thinks of voters as fellow citizens and not beggars who are happy to trade their vote for a piece of mutton.

We do not know for the time being whether Geoana has the motivational and intellectual resources necessary not only to uphold an European politician model before the voters, but also to defend such model in front of certain party colleagues of his. If however, he has nothing to uphold, he will make do with backstage games and wait for another window of opportunity.

As far as Traian Basescu is concerned, the stakes of this game are rather thorny, if not even dramatic. If he loses, he may also lose the chairmanship of his party, which, in its turn, may lose the edge in the upcoming harsh negotiations that will take place within The DA Alliance in view of allocating entries on lists of candidates for Parliament. To this add the consequences that such failure may bear on The Alliance's score in the general elections this fall. In short, Basescu has started a very wicked game: if he loses, he loses everything, while Geoana may win even if he loses. It remains to be seen what exactly he may win... as Magister Ludi threw him in the game too late, despite the fact that this move had become necessary a long time before.

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