By Christopher Emsden
Only one thing is (almost) certain about Romanian politics: There will be no victor in Sunday’s presidential vote.
That, of course, just kicks the can down the road until a second round on Dec. 6.
Incumbent President Traian Basescu, closely tied to the conservative Democratic Liberal Party, has retained, barely, his front-runner position for this Sunday’s vote, and should poll around a third of the ballots cast, ahead of 30% or so for Mircea Geoana, the leader of the Social Democrat Party, according to opinion polls from the CURS, Inosmar and CCSB polling agencies in Bucharest.
But his star has been falling and now looks to have passed a crucial point. Geoana would win the second round, taking as much as 54% of the vote, according to the latest polls.
So what’s the best outcome?
A Geoana victory “would actually provide for a more stable backdrop ahead,” says Simon Quijano-Evans, the CEE strategist for Cheuvreux in Vienna.
His interpretation is somewhat against the consensus but cunning: The new president will have to nominate a prime minister, and the SDP has already indicate it could agree on a compromise candidate with other opposition parties.
So at least a government could be formed, which is rather essential given the IMF has signaled it needs a counterparty before it can disburse any more of its emergency loan funds.
On the other hand, Geoana and the SDP have criticized the IMF conditions, which include sharp cuts to public-sector employee ranks and wages.
That raises the specter of political stability coming only at the cost of economic stability.
At ay rate Basescu appears to have been outfoxed. After the SDP quit the coalition he has nominated two prime ministers, both times doing so even after opposition parties warned they would not support the candidates. Given that the Democratic Liberals are now identified as the government negotiating with the IMF, that leaves Basescu closely identified with the swingeing austerity cuts to come.
Geoana has avoided any electoral debates, apparently detecting little to gain.
That’s a risk. Geoana is hardly bolstering his leadership credentials by refusing to go mano a mano with his rivals in what one local analyst called a “confrontation between rappers.”
Not that the campaign has been a dignified spectacle.
Indeed, Basescu has emphasized that he doesn’t actually like the job and his main effort at articulatilng a track record was that Romania grew during his term – thanks to somewhat larger maritime rights resulting from an International Court of Justice ruling earlier this year on a dispute with Ukraine over Snake Island, a small atoll in the western Black Sea.