Klaus Iohannis’ legacy: The dissolution of the PNL into the PSD

Sursa Foto: Inquam Photos/ Octav Ganea

Klaus Iohannis’ legacy: The dissolution of the PNL into the PSD

The greatest challenge the National Liberal Party (PNL) faces today is mobilizing its party members. Liberals are no longer willing to engage in campaigning, as some leaders admit in off-the-record discussions. The party’s terminal decline was recently evident at the election meeting of the Sector 4 branch, where not even the presence of a buffoon like Rareș Bogdan could energize the room.

How did one of the most vibrant parties transform into an amorphous mass? Where has the liberal spirit gone? The historic motto „By Ourselves” was forgotten the moment the PNL decided to run on joint lists with the PSD, its ideological rival, at least in theory. From now on, liberals exist „with the help of others.” It is, if you will, the first step towards the PNL’s dissolution into the PSD.

How did we get here? Here are some possible explanations:

  • The systematic counter-selection practiced since Klaus Iohannis took office at Cotroceni has brought pseudo-leaders to the forefront of the party in recent years, politicians who have achieved nothing in their careers „by themselves” but were imposed from above, with no merit other than unconditional servility towards Cotroceni. Alina Gorghiu, Florin Cîțu, Cătălin Predoiu, Iulian Dumitrescu, Sebastian Burduja, Lucian Bode, or Nicolae Ciucă have no say in politics, but have become important leaders, ministers, heads of local organizations. The top-down counter-selection has spread to the party base. Pseudo-leaders chose their lieutenants in their own image. Even at the end of its term, the PNL fails to symbolically detach itself from the head of state, the man who led them into the abyss. For whom and for what should an honest and competent liberal strive? What is the perspective?
  • The alliance with the PSD made in the name of political stability has demobilized those liberals loyal to their ideology, however few they may be. A party is not just made up of opportunists and grifters who believe in nothing. There are also people who care about values, principles, lifelong liberals. Since the 1990s, they have told voters in every election that the major political enemy is the PSD. What can they tell voters now, when they are running in tandem with the Social Democrats, one for the mayoralty, the other for the County Council, similarly on local and county council lists, and at the European elections, the left and right in Romania amicably share spots on a joint list, a unique case in Europe. If liberals are not allowed to criticize the PSD, then whom should they criticize?
  • Nicolae Ciucă, probably the weakest PNL president in the party’s history. The former chief of staff, a general accustomed to hierarchy and command, ended up leading a so-called „liberal” party. What greater contradiction could there be? Moreover, Ciucă simply has no business with politics: he speaks publically astonishingly poorly, has the charisma of an artillery shell, and appears weak, manipulable, a puppet in the hands of others, as described by voters in a survey commissioned by the German foundation KAS (close to the PNL). The word „puppet” recurs obsessively in focus groups from Transylvania and Moldova. Especially in Moldova, the characterizations are acidic: „stupid,” „unsuitable,” „ridiculous,” „without charisma,” „submissive.” In other words, a disgrace for the PNL and for liberalism. How can liberals support a general who stumbles over words, who doesn’t even have the prospect of making it to the second round of the presidential elections?
  • The candidate for Bucharest, imposed by the PSD. Half-jokingly, half-seriously, liberals have serious problems collecting signatures in Bucharest, where the party has fallen below 10%. How can liberals campaign, when everywhere they appear, voters throw accusations at them because of the alliance with the PSD? Liberals even gave up on their candidate for the Mayor of the Capital. According to G4Media.ro sources, they had no say in choosing Cătălin Cârstoiu as an independent supported by both parties for the Mayor of Bucharest. The proposal came in an envelope from the PSD, and Nicolae Ciucă did not comment, did not ask questions. For him and for Marcel Ciolacu, the solution of a man outside the party saves them from potential displeasure in their parties, in case Cârstoiu would win the Mayor’s office. Unlikely, considering how poorly things are going.
  • The failure of the merger with the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL). Nearly ten years after the former party led by Traian Băsescu merged into the PNL, the two sides have not united into a whole. The party is still split into two major camps: the liberals and the PDL members. The latter continued to win mayoralties, having a solid structure of local elected officials, especially in Transylvania, while liberals never knew if they were liberals or Social Democrats. They governed alongside the PSD after 2007, while the PDL was sent into opposition and were always ready to compromise with the larger party. The anti-PSD sentiment of former PDL members was somewhat more authentic than that practiced by liberals. These differences in vision persist today within the party, after the alliance with the PSD.
  • The wrong message propagated during the campaign by PNL and PSD leaders: the coalition will win the elections, there is no other solution, we have no opponent. If that’s the case, then why bother? Why struggle if the elections are already won? It’s a textbook tactical error. Without a real political opponent, the two major parties that used to fight in the past fail to generate emotion among their own voters. Fighting for „political stability” impresses no one. As much as the two leaders, Ciucă and Ciolacu, tried to wave the scarecrow of extremism, no one bit. Voters understand that AUR is just another lab-made party, artificial, led by a leader as weak and manipulable as the others.

Of course, there are other possible explanations for the historical decline of the liberals, but the points mentioned above represent the main cause. The course set by Klaus Iohannis is pushing the PNL towards dissolution into the PSD. The first effect of running on joint lists is that we won’t know the real score of the two parties after local and European parliamentary elections. We will only learn that together they obtained percentage X, but we won’t be able to say how valuable the liberals still are in the eyes of voters. Marcel Ciolacu thus saved Nicolae Ciucă from an inevitable political reckoning, but the price of saving one man will be quite high: the PSD will swallow the PNL sooner or later. Liberals will no longer matter after the presidential and parliamentary elections unless they nominate a strong candidate capable of playing the game at Cotroceni and keeping the PSD in check.


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