04BUCHAREST3442 / 2004-12-15 13:46:00
Embassy Bucharest
                C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BUCHAREST 003442 
 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE FOR EUR/NCE - WILLIAM SILKWORTH 
STATE ALSO FOR INR/B 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/15/2014 
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, KDEM, SOCI, RO 
SUBJECT: ROMANIA'S NEW PRESIDENT: FORMER SAILER PILOTS SHIP 
OF STATE 
 
REF: A. A) BUCHAREST 3421 
 
     B. B) BUCHAREST 3415 
     C. C) BUCHAREST 3318 
     D. D) BUCHAREST 3092 
     E. E) BUCHAREST 2956 
     F. F) BUCHAREST 2748 
     G. G) BUCHAREST 2226 
     H. H) BUCHAREST 1730 
 
Classified By: POLITICAL SECTION CHIEF ROBERT GILCHRIST FOR REASONS 1.4 
 B AND D 
 
1.  (C) Summary.  Romania's President-elect, National Liberal 
Party-Democratic Party (PNL-PD) alliance co-leader Traian 
Basescu, is a skilled political campaigner and popular 
politician, renowned for his tenacity, but also for his 
approachability and straightforward style.  Basescu is a 
long-standing domestic political figure, serving as 
Transportation Minister in the 1990's and Bucharest Mayor 
from 2000 until his presidential victory over Social 
Democratic Party (PSD) candidate and Prime Minister Adrian 
Nastase.  Basescu characterizes himself as a strong ally of 
the U.S. and a vocal advocate for strengthening transatlantic 
relations.  He strongly supports Romania's EU integration and 
is known for his tough stance on corruption and drive for 
economic reform and modernization.  Sometimes criticized for 
poor managerial skills in Bucharest City Hall, Basescu now 
faces the challenge of building a governing coalition and 
constructing a successful governing team.  End Summary. 
 
The Happy Warrior 
----------------- 
2.  (C) Bucharest's Mayor and President-elect Traian Basescu, 
the surprise winner in the December 12 runoff presidential 
election, is little known outside of Romania, as his entire 
political career has focused on internal politics until now. 
Within Romania, however, he is renowned as a consummate 
political wrangler and a longstanding thorn in the side of 
the center-left Social Democratic Party (PSD), which governed 
Romania from 2000 until Basescu's upset victory over PSD 
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase.  A native of the seaport city 
of Constanta, the 53 year-old Basescu will now take on the 
role of Chief of State from outgoing President and PSD leader 
Ion Iliescu later this month.  His next task is formal 
designation of a Prime Minister and formation of a government 
but at the time of this writing, Social Democratic leadership 
is still arguing that they have the prerogative to form a 
PSD-centered government based on the majority status of their 
newly forged parliamentary alliances.  (Comment: We may have 
a Constitutional crisis brewing, but our reading of the 
Constitutional Article clearly gives a free hand to Basescu 
to attempt to form a government.  End comment) 
 
From Sailor to Alliance Leader 
------------------------------ 
3.  (C) Basescu was thrust into the national spotlight in 
October 2004 following the surprise withdrawal from the 
presidential race of PNL-PD candidate and Liberal Party 
president Teodor Stolojan for undisclosed health reasons. 
However, Basescu is no newcomer to Romanian politics and has 
been a major player on the Romanian political scene since the 
early 1990's.  Prior to the end of communist rule, Basescu 
was in the merchant marines, finishing as an oil tanker 
captain before moving on to become a high-ranking civil 
servant in Romania's Transport Ministry.  Basescu served as 
Transportation Minister from 1991-92 and 1996-2000.  He was 
elected to parliament as a Democratic Party (PD) deputy from 
1992 to 1996.  He followed his first election as Mayor of 
Bucharest in 2000 with another victory in June 2004, handily 
defeating PSD candidate FM Mircea Geoana and quickly becoming 
the PD's most popular politician.  Indeed, Basescu was 
arguably the "star" of the PNL-PD local election campaign; 
his easy win in Bucharest over the popular FM helped energize 
the PNL-PD Alliance for upcoming parliamentary and 
presidential elections. 
 
4.  (C) Basescu was elected PD president in 2001 after an 
intense and sometimes acrimonious struggle for control of the 
party, leading to the defection of some former PD stalwarts. 
In September 2003, the nominally center-left PD entered into 
a formal alliance with the center-right National Liberal 
Party (PNL), elevating Basescu to co-president of the 
alliance. As alliance co-president, Basescu worked closely 
with PNL President Teodor Stolojan to forge a unified 
campaign and strong opposition challenger to the ruling PSD 
and its well-developed party machine in local and national 
elections. 
 
Promoting the Transatlantic Alliance 
------------------------------------ 
5.  (C) Basescu publicly and privately advocates a strong 
strategic alliance with the United States.  During the final 
televised presidential debate on December 8, Basescu 
highlighted the importance of the 
"Bucharest-Washington-London" alliance.  At the same time, 
Basescu insists that EU accession is Romania's number one 
foreign policy objective - a view shared by political leaders 
across the spectrum.  During the presidential campaign, 
however, Basescu hammered his opponent for making concessions 
to EU negotiators without first laying the necessary 
groundwork domestically.  In the course of his December 13 
victory speech, Basescu stressed that political leaders must 
"explain the costs" of EU accession to the population. 
 
6.  (C) Basescu, a fluent English speaker, has long been a 
candid and reliable interlocutor with the Embassy.  Indeed, 
one of his two daughters attended an American university, and 
Basescu has complained that Romania's rigid academic 
hierarchy is hesitant to recognize a U.S. diploma in some 
instances. Basescu's generally pro-American stance, however, 
did not prevent him from criticizing during the campaign a 
sole source highway construction contract awarded by the PSD 
government to Bechtel Corporation.  (Note:  Basescu also 
slammed the PSD government for awarding contracts to European 
companies under less than transparent circumstances.  End 
Note.)  In the past, Basescu has voiced reservations about 
the 2003 U.S.-led military intervention in Iraq. 
Subsequently, he has privately and publicly expressed his 
solid support for continued Romanian troop contributions in 
Iraq and Afghanistan -- even advocating a potential increase, 
provided Romania has the capacity to do so. 
 
Rolling Up the Shirt Sleeves 
---------------------------- 
7.  (C) Even Basescu's fiercest opponents acknowledge that he 
is a brilliant debater.  He punctuates his blunt speaking 
style with wry humor and a candid admission of his own 
weaknesses.  Indeed, during the last presidential debate, he 
bemoaned the fact that Romania's two presidential contenders 
were both ex-communists.  One political observer who had been 
with Basescu on the hustings in rural Romania during the 
campaign described audiences breaking into tears as Basescu 
eloquently described the disastrous impact of corruption and 
inefficient bureaucracy on the lives of ordinary citizens. 
Earlier, after his city administration came under attack for 
lagging road repairs, Basescu occasionally doffed his sport 
coat and pitched in with one of the repaving crews working in 
the evening under artificial light.  It was great politics 
and endeared him to the citizens of Bucharest. 
 
8.  (C) Basescu is famed for his approachable style.  As one 
Romanian remarked to Poloff, he is not intimidating and 
"anyone can talk to him."  His favored public attire is an 
open collar polo shirt.  When forced by official business to 
don a tie, his cravat is invariably slightly askew, with top 
button often undone.  During the June mayoral race, the 
shirt-sleeved Basescu mocked his opponent, FM Mircea Geoana, 
who campaigned at factories and subway stops in tailored, 
Italian suits.  Basescu's informal, straightforward manner 
starkly contrasted with PM Nastase's button down reserve 
during the presidential campaign.  Indeed, during the debate 
Basescu consistently referred to his opponent by his first 
name and by using the informal form for "you."  Those who 
know Basescu insist that his public demeanor accurately 
reflects his personal style.  In a meeting with the 
Ambassador, his chief of staff remarked that he was a 
wonderful person to work for and that what you see is what 
you get.  In stark contrast to many of Romania's political 
elite, whose lavish lifestyle occasionally is featured on 
tabloid front pages, Basescu has a reputation for dwelling 
with his wife in a relatively modest home decorated with 
model ships he has assembled. 
 
Foot in Mouth Disease 
--------------------- 
9.  (C) Nonetheless, Basescu's informal demeanor and shoot 
from the hip style - which can blend irony and pathos in a 
few sentences - has occasionally been his Achilles heel. 
During the campaign he caught flack from the powerful 
Christian Orthodox hierarchy for his statement that one in 
five Romanians is homosexual and for his reported endorsement 
of gay marriage.  In classic Basescu style, however, he 
bluntly admitted that he had "made an error."  During the 
presidential campaign, his opponents attempted to portray him 
as "unpresidential" - perhaps a competent mayor but, at 
heart, a former merchant marine lacking the "gravitas" to 
steer Romania through the shoals of EU accession. 
 
Sharing the Reins of Power? 
--------------------------- 
10.  (C) Some former colleagues of Basescu bitterly complain 
that his management style is non-consultative and frequently 
disregards the concerns of colleagues.  Indeed, one of the 
most pointed questions leveled at him during the debate 
inquired whether he was capable of working with a team. 
Basescu insisted that he is a "team player," but politicians 
who have worked with him insist that he is a poor manager. 
Political insiders caution that Basescu will need finely 
honed diplomatic skills to build a cohesive and consistent 
PNL-PD led government. 
 
Attacking Corruption 
--------------------- 
11.  (C) During the presidential campaign, Basescu identified 
eliminating rampant corruption as a national security 
priority.  His tough talking stance on corruption resonated 
with many voters who, despite Romania's impressive 
macroeconomic growth, continue to live in straitened 
circumstance fifteen years after the end of communist rule. 
The Nastase campaign's promises to continue fighting 
corruption were small beer compared to Basescu's insistence 
that many PSD leaders were directly or indirectly benefiting 
from a culture of corruption and that state institutions, 
including the judiciary, must be insulated from political 
influence. 
 
12. (C) Basescu himself, however, remains dogged by a 
National Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office (PNA) 
investigation launched in the summer of 2004 into his alleged 
profiteering from the sale of Romanian merchant marine ships 
during his tenure as Transport Minister in the 1990's (Ref 
G).  He has vigorously denied these charges, claiming that 
they are politically motivated.  Similar charges in 1996 were 
dropped due to lack of evidence, following Basescu's 
agreement to give up his parliamentary immunity to be 
investigated.  This gesture clearly boosted his popularity, 
marking him in stark contrast to other MP's that allegedly 
hid their misdeeds under the cloak of parliamentary immunity. 
 Many Romanians saw the case simply as an attempt by the PSD 
to tar Basescu with corruption charges.  He did not appear to 
have financially benefited from the fleet sale and any 
misdoings on his part appear to have been procedural, if 
that.  Constitutional lawyers now say that, with his election 
to the presidency, the "Fleet File" charges against Basescu 
will be suspended, as a sitting Romanian president can only 
be prosecuted for crimes of "high treason." 
 
Economic Reform 
--------------- 
13.  (C) Since the mid-1990's, Basescu has been a stalwart 
advocate for economic reform, including transparent 
privatization of state-run enterprises, fiscal reform, and 
economic modernization to attract foreign investment.  During 
the presidential contest, Basescu reached out to the domestic 
and international business community, holding forums with 
leading business groups and pledging to institute 
market-oriented reforms.  Liberal economic reform -- 
including major changes to the tax code -- remained a central 
component of PNL-PD's campaign platform.  Political analysts 
are now watching to see if he will succeed in putting 
together a government capable of implementing this program. 
 
14.  (U)  Amembassy Bucharest,s reporting telegrams are 
available on the Bucharest SIPRNET Website: 
www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/bucharest 
CROUCH 

            
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