Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bald men and combs

Romanian politics ought to be incredibly exciting and interesting. We've had 3 or 4 governments in the last few weeks, there is a presidential election right round the corner, the country is in the middle of a massive economic meltdown, and the country is in the grip of swine flu fear. It's also approaching the 20th anniversary of the revolution. Oh, and corruption is still totally endemic (as recently reported here on NPR, here in the Guardian, and here in El Pais)

And yet...

The presidential election is being contested between the biggest collection of nonentities and vacuous personality-free greying men you could imagine, while the most competent politicians in the country are having their political careers shattered by being proposed for the Prime Ministership, a job which is a chalice so full of poison that there is actually no room for anything else in it.

To recap, on the assumption that very few people reading this actually follow Romanian politics: Earlier this year there was a general election, which after much horsetrading led to a coalition government of the PDL (liberal democrats - party of President Basescu) and PSD (social democrats, nominally left leaning, but in fact right wing party of ex-communists). This government was led by former Cluj mayor Emil Boc. Faced with the fallout from the ongoing economic crisis, which is really biting in Romania this year, this government was pretty useless, and before long had collapsed in a hail of recriminations, with the PSD pulling out. Boc's govt soldiered on for a while as minority, but soon got kicked out in the inevitable no confidence vote.

Anyway, following this collapse, two of the three major parties (the PSD and the PNL – national liberals) along with the 4th biggest party, the UDMR (Hungarian ethnic party) came together and proposed that a new government should be led by Klaus Johannis, the ethnic German mayor of Sibiu. This seemed like an eminently good choice as (a) he is not actually part of any of the main parties, and instead represents an party which originally represented the ethnic German population of Transylvania, but he has done such a good job as mayor of Sibiu (German population something like 2%), that he was most recently reelected with something crazy like 75% of the vote, and (b) he’s obviously good at what he does.

Basescu, and the PDL, though, were having none of it, and instead the president nominated a new prime minister whose name I have already forgotten (actually true) so short lived was his government. One theory here runs that Basescu is happy to perpetuate this continued instability on the basis that it enhances his prospects of reelection. Anyway, having failed the first time when choosing a PM who wasn’t Johannis, he is trying again (and once again going against the continued will of the other 3 parties who are steadfast in their support for the German), and has now nominated Liviu Negoita. Now I have a friend who swears that Negoita is the bee’s knees and had completely revitalised Bucharest Sector 3 where he is the mayor. He must be doing something right, since like Johannis he got reelected with a huge proportion of the vote. So, here we have the PM-ship being tossed around between seemingly two really really good politicians, both of whom look like they could really help Romania, but whose national political careers are liable to get destroyed by success (I can’t really see anyone benefitting in the long term by becoming PM at the moment). In the meantime the usual cretins and non-entities are contesting the presidential election. ..

So, a brief run through of the faceless nobodies who might be president (well most of them don’t stand a hope in hell, but they’re standing anyway)

Traian Basescu. To be fair, he at least does have a personality. I’m not sure if I’m fond of that personality but it is there. I wouldn’t trust him any further than I could comfortably throw him, though his schtick seems to be entirely based on being a man of the people, “Honest Traian”. You wouldn’t buy a car from him, why would you want him as president? I still can’t really get over the fact that a couple of years ago, he was caught making a blatantly racist remark, and rather than apologising, he said it was just what everybody thought. Only in Romania.

Mircea Geoana. Representing the PSD. A Goana is a lizard in Australia, and while his name is not actually Goana, it would be fitting. I’d say slimy would be the most fitting adjective. He also indirectly played a role in the recent death of my brother in law, which while I am pretty sure he was not really to blame for, it’s difficult to get past. Plus he’s in the PSD.

Crin Antonescu. (PNL) A man whose personality and look are so unobtrusive that you wonder whether he really exists. Despite seeing his face on posters all over, if I was asked to pick him out of a police line-up I don’t think I could. He would be infinitely more appealing if he would just go with the logical campaign slogan “Crin and bear it”. Of the three main parties the PNL is the one which I have marginally more time for, so he’s possibly the best of a bad lot.

Sorin Oprescu. Independent, ex-PSD, currently mayor of Bucharest (you may by now be getting the message that the way to high office in Romania is by way of being the mayor somewhere, and that certainly seems to be the case. Basescu was mayor of Bucharest too). Can’t say much about Oprescu, just that he looks like a bit of chancer. He’s only just been elected mayor of Bucharest, so it seems a bit rum that he’s already trying to dump that job in favour of a bigger one. On top of his couple of weeks experience in charge of the capital, I’m not sure what else he’s done aside from being a PSD apparatchik.

Kelemen Hunor (UDMR – Hungarian party). Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Makes Crin Antonescu look like the life and soul of the country.

Corneliu Vadim Tudor (PRM – far right nationalists for old people and those pining for Ceausescu). Wanker, anti semitic, racist, anti-Hungarian, all round tosser and self-professed poet.

Gigi Becali (PNG – far right nationalists for disaffected urban youth). Makes Vadim Tudor look like the soul of moderation and intelligence. Complete and utter arsehole. Owner of Steaua Bucharest, and self-professed shepherd.

A bunch of others too, including Remus Cernea of the Green Party who I saw on TV the other day and who looks absolutely fantastic, and who if I had a vote I would vote for in a flash, and someone called Edouard Manole, about whom I know absolutely nothing, but whose poster I saw in Bucharest today, and whose logo seems to be the crossed hammer one which he’s obviously ripped off from the film “Pink Floyd: The Wall”. Based on that he could well be yet another far right candidate with fascistic tendencies, like Romania needs any more of them.

In all likelihood the first round will leave Basescu facing Geoana in the run off, at which point this election becomes even less interesting than it is now. The real loser will be turnout which threatens to be the lowest ever since democracy, and which, only 20 years after the overthrow of Ceausescu, and with all the problems that the country faces, is a really sad indictment.

[PS A much more interesting political analysis of the upcoming election can now be found at Gadjo Dilo's excellent blog]


Gadjo Dilo said...

Andy, I knew I could rely on you for a proper analysis of all this! (And thanks for the link, by the way, though I'm not sure that my disrespectful guff deserved it). I was rather impressed by Kelemen Hunor when he was interviewed on TV recently, as indeed was my (Romanian) wife, though I guess she and all other Romanians would never dare vote for him out of fear about a return to pre-1920 imperium in another twist of the revenge saga.

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