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Parties abandon principles for opportunism

April 2008 - From the Print Edition

Ideology has never been a strong point among post-Communist Romanian political parties. In 2005, the Democratic Party (PD) publicly switched its doctrine from left of centre to right of centre. Since then the PD’s former alliance partner, the National Liberal Party (PNL), seems to have done exactly the reverse.
During its last year in Government, the PNL enacted a policy of redistribution of wealth and the preservation of public assets. The doubling of the pension rate, which was heavily criticised by the IMF and President Basescu, was correct in intention, but poor in execution. Pensioners needed more money, but the manner upset the budget and has since contributed to a rise in inflation. This means the gains in real terms for the pensioners may not be that great.
The Government has also put on hold further privatisations in the energy sector, especially of its hugely inefficient thermo-power plants. While it has scored a success in the sale of Automobile Craiova to Ford, this was undermined by the Government’s failure to inform the European Commission of its state aid to the ailing car factory – a forbidden practice under EU rules. Meanwhile privatisations of savings bank CEC and pharma firm Antibiotice, both solid companies, have also stumbled. This shows a lack of confidence in the Government in its effectiveness in carrying out its promises.
Although many of these policies resemble those of an economically unsound Socialist Party, the Liberals are not committed to the great principles of the left, such as social justice, fair deals for everyone and collective bargaining. The result of this is not only economic crises such as rising inflation and rising interest rates, but also social disasters, such as strike action in the public and private sectors.
Now the PNL seems to be making friends with all the political parties which are no longer major forces in Romanian politics including Christian Democrats, such as the National Peasant’s Party (PNTCD), and the party of ex-President Emil Constantinescu. The PNL is also in the process of an alliance with the Social Democrats (PSD) to promote tactical voting in the local elections.
But this strategy may backfire. Every new voter which the PNL may gain from its next alliance could alienate a member of its own base. Historically, the PNL is the ideological opposite of the PSD. Its rank and file members have, in the past, defined themselves through their opposition to Socialism. Each tactical alliance with another party the Liberals engage in begs the question, especially in an election year: what does the Liberal Party stand for other than the political survival of its senior members?
An alliance with the PSD on any level negates the ideological bedrock of the PNL and, consequently, undermines the party’s existence. Its members and candidates may as well join the PSD to create a Socialist Liberal Party and we can all breathe a sigh of relief as no one has to pretend that Romania is playing with politics of principle anymore.

Michael Bird

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