The danger facing the anti-PSD movement: A war of attrition between Klaus Iohannis and Dacian Ciolos, PNL, USR, and PLUS
One of the greatest dangers threatening the right’s chances of reporting victories in the upcoming electoral battles against the PSD, and to banding together eventually, is the war of attrition between Klaus Iohannis and Dacian Ciolos. Another danger is the competition for the second place between the opposition parties PNL, USR, and PLUS. Part of this war that has already begun can be seen in broad daylight, part of it is waged in the underground.
Take Ciolos’s charge against Iohannis on Saturday, after he was elected president of PLUS. He said that „we need to build a substantial project for the presidential elections” and that „we need to bring back consistency to the presidential mandate.” One, therefore, can understand from these remarks that Iohannis is not substantial enough an option for the presidential elections and that the current presidential mandate is somewhat lacking since the PLUS leader feels the need to render back its presumed lost consistency.
Klaus Iohannis responded in kind on Monday through his party, the PNL, who backs his bid for a second term when they released a poll that places PLUS only at half the score of the USR. The leaders of the two parties perceived it as an attempt by the liberals to muddy the waters and further complicate their negotiations for the split-up of the MEP mandates in an eventual coalition between the two parties in the upcoming elections for the EU parliament.
But the poll is the most harmless of attacks. The real punch in the gut came from Antonio Lopez Isturiz-White, the Secretary-General of the PPE, who publicly accused Dacian Ciolos of opportunism, and warned him via every available channel that he will be treated as a political enemy. There have been squabbles in the past between the ex-premier and the liberals, but this is at a whole new level.
As Dacian Ciolos inches closer to a presidential candidacy and as the USR and PLUS are getting closer to forming an alliance, nervousness increases exponentially at Cotroceni and the PNL. President Klaus Iohannis sees in Ciolos an adversary that could jeopardize his reelection chances. Liberals also feel their position as the main opposition party threatened. If the USR and PLUS can really get a good result in the EU elections, they could conjure up the enthusiasm necessary to place the new alliance in the position of the main opposition force.
Therefore, Klaus Iohannis and the PNL have every interest to prevent the surge of any serious competition on the right, both in the EU elections and for the presidential race, with the long-term stake of winning the 2020 parliamentary elections, i.e., the Government. But all begins now: the results in the EU elections will set the tone, while the first big battle will be the presidential elections at the end of this year.
It is entirely possible that a series of attacks launched against Dacian Ciolos in the last few months have originated from this intense competition between parties and candidates on the right, but this can not be proven. For now, the situation is relatively calm, but we can expect the heat to go up as we get closer to the elections.
The wisest thing that both Ciolos and President Iohannis could do is to refrain from new mutual attacks, at least until the EU elections are over when they will have a better grasp of each other’s standing and whether their political machines are working according to plan. Of course, each side is tempted to steal the start, to trip its opponent or to sabotage them. But once you get inside the spiral of attacks, it will be hard to get out of it.
A war of attrition between Iohannis and Ciolos fragments the right, generates confusion and demobilizes the electorate if the opposition parties can’t get past their pride and unite in these dramatic moments for Romania. For these reasons, I am more and more convinced that after the EU elections have come to pass, and based on the results and on the polls, the anti-PSD movement will do best to coalesce behind a single presidential candidate, be it Iohannis or Ciolos.
The idea that each candidate can mobilize a specific area of the electorate and that put together, they could get more votes that could afterward be channeled in the second round to one candidate to win the elections, I don’t believe it holds water.
For example, when the anti-PSD movement had multiple candidates, it lost (see 2000, with Stolojan and Isarescu). When the anti-PSD movement had only one candidate, it won (see 2004, DA alliance, Basescu).
When on the anti-PSD movement there are two presidential candidates, each backed by a political group, I believe that the risk of cannibalization and mutual destruction is much higher.
It is the PSD that would be most advantaged by such a scenario, and it would richly exploit the inevitable reciprocal attacks between Iohannis and Ciolos. It is not difficult to see how the PSD is trying to ramp-up as much as possible the rivalry between the president and his former prime minister. It is not by accident that Ciolos’s party fares much better than the liberals in the polls released by the PSD. Combine that with Antena 3’s virulent attacks on Ciolos meant to radicalize its electorate, and you have a play that is subtle and more difficult to understand, but a very efficient one at that.
Therefore, truce and pragmatic decisions, however painful. It is the only rational solution; otherwise, on the missteps of the opposition, the PSD could also take the presidency, the last significant stronghold. If they fail to place the general well-being above their personal ambitions in such critical moments for everyone, history will mark them as lesser men, complicit in the destruction of the country by a group of criminals who captured the state and took its people prisoners.
Traducerea: Ovidiu Harfas
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