Weekly review: heavy words thrown between the palaces

Weekly review: heavy words thrown between the palaces


By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest

This past week has marked an unprecedented inflammation of the political speech in Bucharest with the two rivals – PM Victor Ponta vs President Traian Basescu – embroiled in an ever ferocious fight as elections approach.

Waters were again troubled after Ponta decided to refuse to countersign he decoration of a group of intellectuals Basescu had proposed, arguing that two of them, Horia Roman Patapievici and Mircea Mihaies, former heads of the Romanian Cultural Institute, “have expressed anti-Romanian and fascists positions”. His words sparked a tough reaction from the intellectual community and Mihaies sued the prime-minister. In return, President Basescu on Wednesday lodged a complaint with the Constitutional Court after Ponta’s refusal to countersign his proposal, accusing the latter of blocking the inter-institutional activity. On Friday, Basescu went on and decorated the intellectuals in an overtly defying gesture.

But Basescu’s reaction went even further. Speaking in a TV talk-show on Thursday, Basescu referred to Ponta’s personal life, reminding the audience the prime-minister had left “his six months pregnant wife” to marry the daughter of an influential social-democrat leader. Basescu referred to Ponta’s wife, Dacia Sarbu, daughter of Ilie Sarbu, one of the political veterans of the party Ponta is now leading. The President also alleged Ponta had asked him to be their Godfather which the prime-minister denied. The unusual exchange of words between Victoria Palace – seat of government – and the Cotroceni Palace – seat of Presidency – , beyond the classic political battleground now expanded into the personal area, shows a frenzied fight between the two which gains proportions as the presidential poll this fall approaches. Ponta is at the moment the favorite to succeed Basescu who leave the first job after two consecutive five year terms. But the head of state doesn’t miss any single opportunity to warn Ponta is not fit for the job.

The week also brought a first in the post-communist media. Daily Adevarul decided to disclose the source of an article which concerned PM Ponta after the latter struck back and called the journalists liars. It all started when the reporters of the newspaper published a news item saying PM Ponta was flying from Craiova, a city in SW Romania where he had paid a short visit, to Satu Mare, in NW Romania, on board of a military plane, citing sources among local officials in Craiova. Ponta, very careful about his public image now, was quick to report. “I have read on Adevarul website that I had been flown here aboard a military plane. Daily Adevarul is a lie as you have probably realized. We are civilians, we move about by what civilians move about” Ponta reacted after landing in Satu Mare. In return, Adevarul decided to reveal its source to show the story hadn’t been made up.

With all the eyes on the political turmoil, the news of Ponta’s second anniversary in power barely made it to the public. His record is replete with controversy than achievements – attacks against the rule of law which drew the ire of the West (Basescu’s hasty impeachment in the summer of 2012, attempts to change the law so that lawmakers are shielded from corruption charges, failed privatizations, political appointments at the helm of crucial state institutions, attempts to gain control over those which remain politically independent, new taxes such as the controversial fuel excise, failed crucial projects such as the decentralization and the administrative reform and the new Constitution, the resurgence of the “local barons” problem, influential and corrupted local officials and confusing positions in the country’s foreign policy, with a series of pro-Chinese and pro-Russian bouts.

The Euro-elections will probably be the beginning of a new positioning of political parties and will also lead to a decantation of candidates for the first job in the country. Until now, the rightist parties fail to regroup around one single candidate which will decrease Ponta’s chances of becoming president, but this is expected to happen in the second semester. Analysts say that a second round of presidential elections in which Ponta will face a rightist candidate will probably end up with Ponta’s defeat. With the two camps preparing for a political war this fall, the public is left the impression the heavy artillery is not yet out in the battle field. So far, only small fire arms have been used.