Prime Minister Victor Ponta was reelected with a convincing two-thirds majority in Romania's parliamentary election, enough to push through changes to the constitution. Observers fear a repeat of the "Hungarian model."
Romania's Prime Minister Victor Ponta has never kept secret his admiration for his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orban. He is most fascinated by the way the short, burly Magyar defies the mighty European Union.
In the parliamentary election on December 9, Ponta and his former communist leftist Social Liberal Union (USL) achieved what Orban and his Fidesz party won in 2010: an overwhelming election victory. The USL now has a two-thirds majority in parliament. Ponta and his party have made it clear they will use that majority for sweeping political reforms. Following in Hungary's footsteps, Romania could soon become the EU's next democratic headache.
First, disempower the president...
The USL wants to use its election victory to strip Basescu of his powers, ending a struggle that has been under way for more than six months. Polling stations had hardly closed on Sunday and the exit polls barely announced when the prime minister uttered a biblical threat: "Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword." The warning to Basescu being that should he not reappoint Ponta as head of government, he would face yet another round of impeachment proceedings.
During the election campaign, Basescu repeatedly announced he would not nominate Ponta, despite the fact that the president is constitutionally obliged to propose the candidate with the electoral majority for the post of prime minister. In turn, that candidate must be elected by the parliament, which must itself be convened within 20 days.
But the wording of the particular passage in the constitution that outlines this process allows for a little wiggle room when it comes to interpretation - room that Basescu said just last week that he wants to exploit as much as possible.
Whether the president is able to move ahead with his plans will become clear next week, when Basescu announces the candidate for the position of prime minister after consultations with representatives from each political party. Some in Basescu's own Right Romania Alliance (ARD) have already urged the president to nominate Ponta, saying it would be Basescu's only chance to avoid impeachment. Keeping Basescu on as president will serve as a more effective opposition than the ARD itself, which is represented in parliament with just 13 percent of the vote.
Basescu himself has so far remained silent, though he clearly has been dealt the inferior hand. Unlike the previous impeachment proceedings in July, the president this time will be unable to count on a favorable decision by the Constitutional Court or an objection from Brussels - that much is clear.
…then, change the country
The USL, meanwhile, is looking ahead. For its first big project, the party is planning to reorganize Romania's administration and undertake a fundamental reform of the constitution. Before it was clear that the USL had won a two-thirds majority, Ponta had suggested taking on the ethnic Hungarian UDMR party as a coalition partner, represented with just over 5 percent of the vote.
But his plan was met with protest by many influential nationalist members of the USL. It remains likely, however, that the UDMR will become part of the governing coalition in one way or the other. The party is well-connected to Europe's Conservatives. Any possible EU reservations regarding Ponta and the USL could thereby be defused.
Cooperation with the UDMR would also be useful on the domestic front. USL's planned reorganization of the Romanian administration would break up the predominantly ethnic Hungarian majority in government circles, which would likely lead to massive protests. With the coalition cooperation, the USL may seek to provide a compromise.
But USL's plans to alter Romania's constitution will have a far greater impact than the proposed administrative changes. The current government system is to be abolished and replaced by a parliamentary republic in which all the executive power rests in the hands of the prime minister. In addition, Ponta plans to drastically restrict the powers of Romania's Constitutional Court, a move which he failed to push through in June.
This would pave the way for the USL's main project: to break up, or at least severely restrict, the recently-established institutional structure dedicated to fighting corruption. No wonder, coming from the party composed of Romania's most powerful and corrupt players. Ever since some of the judiciary began cracking down on corruption, the existence and future of an entire political class has been threatened.
A diverse alliance
Meanwhile, the political future of the USL, once these plans have been carried out, is unclear. The union of the former communist Social Democrats, the right-wing Liberals and the conservative faction of the politician and businessman Dan Voiculescu is a mixed bag. Observers speculate that the alliance could even collapse once the goal of Basescu's impeachment is attained.
In the president's camp, collapse has already begun. Leading party members in Basescu's Right Romania Alliance party have indicated that the party will likely dissolve soon. The desolate situation could be strengthened by the usual defectors from the government camp.
In these circumstances, the strongest opposition party in parliament would be that of dubious TV presenter and political clown Dan Diaconescu, who, with a mixture of esoterics, ultra-nationalism and false promises, managed to garner 14 percent of the vote.
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