Romania’s ruling party cleans the ranks after electoral loss

Romania’s ruling party cleans the ranks after electoral loss


By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest

Romania’s ruling social-democrat party (PSD) has tonight kicked out a series of high ranking members who had voiced discontent over the loss of the presidential elections in which party leader Victor Ponta, current head of the Government, lost to Klaus Iohannis, but refused to leave power despite the bitter defeat two weeks ago.

Three members – Mircea Geoana (former party leader and presidential candidate in 2009), Marian Vanghelie (mayor of Bucharest’s District 5) and Dan Sova (former spokesman of the party and former minister of Transport) – have been expelled from the party’s ranks after they criticized the poor results in the presidential elections on 16 November when Ponta lost to Iohannis with a 10 per cent margin, even if he had entered the run-off with the same two digit advantage. Today, PSD has also decided to organize a party congress next spring and to stay in power, despite calls to leave after the electoral defeat two weeks ago.

“I have never witnessed such executions, not even during communists’ time”, Vanghelie, an exotic political character, known for his loose tongue, reacted. “We have lost the elections and we are not yet aware we cannot come up with the same candidate in five years?” he asked rhetorically.

Surprisingly, neither Ponta nor Liviu Dragnea, his deputy at the helm of the party and Government and former campaign leader, resigned today after losing the elections. “We have lost three presidential elections for a third time in a row, but we got the best results in local, parliamentary and Euro-elections (…) The new project has to take into account both losses and the real causes of the presidential failure”, Ponta said after the meeting.

Ponta pointed out that the congress to be held in spring will elect a new leadership for the party and dodged questions about the current leaders’ responsibility in losing the elections by highlighting the party has to now focus on the future. He also underlined the three members have been excluded following an “overwhelming vote”.

Many calls have risen over the past two weeks for the party, the strongest party in the Romanian Parliament, to withdraw from power following the defeat on 16 November, but Ponta argued his Government is in place following the vote in the 2012 parliamentary elections. It is still too early to identify potential competitors at the congress next spring, but the recent history shows PSD has been the stage of surprising twists in the internal race. Mircea Geoana, now expelled from the party ranks, won the leadership of the party in 2005, a year after social-democrat candidate Andrian Nastase lost presidential elections to acting president Traian Basescu, at the expense of Ion Iliescu, the party founder and the first post-communist president of the country.

As the social-democrats handled the internal conflicts, UDMR, the main Magyar minority representing party, announced it is leaving Ponta’s ruling coalition following the run-off on 16 November when Hungarians in Romania preferred Iohannis, an ethnic German, over Ponta. UMDR’s exit comes days before the Parliament votes the next year’s budget, but Ponta can still count on a reliable majority in the legislative, despite the Hungarians withdrawing from his coalition.