05BUCHAREST1003 / 2005-04-22 13:39:00
Embassy Bucharest
                C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BUCHAREST 001003 
 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE DEPT FOR EUR/NCE - WILLIAM SILKWORTH 
STATE DEPT ALSO FOR INR/B 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/22/2015 
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, KDEM, SOCI, ECON, PINR, RO, election results, biographic information 
SUBJECT: GEOANA WINS SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY PRESIDENCY; 
DEMOCRACY COMES TO ROMANIA'S OPPOSITION 
 
REF: BUCHAREST 982 
 
Classified By: Political Section Chief Robert S. Gilchrist for Reasons 
1.4 B and D 
 
1. (C) Summary.  In a move that surprised the media and 
nearly all of Romania's political class, former Foreign 
Minister Mircea Geoana won the presidency of Romania's 
opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD) in the early hours 
of April 22 at a dramatic party congress.  Other reformers 
within the party -- including former Interior Minister Ioan 
Rus -- also gained key slots in the leadership.  Although 
former President Ion Iliescu was the frontrunner up until a 
day before the vote, his gaffes during the party congress as 
well as the first-ever use of a secret ballot inside the 
party turned the tide of delegates against him.  Although 
some of the PSD old guard remain in the top tiers, delegates 
declined to elect several of the most controversial PSD 
heavyweights to senior positions.  Iliescu's involuntary exit 
signals the end of an era, and marks the commitment of 
mainstream PSD members to break with the party's communist 
past.  End Summary. 
 
"Comrade" Iliescu Stumbles 
--------------------------- 
2. (C) More than 1500 PSD delegates gathered April 21 in 
Bucharest's Palace Hall for the party's biannual congress. 
The congress was the first major meeting of the rank-and-file 
since the PSD's fall from power after the defeat of PSD 
candidate and former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase in 
December 12 presidential elections.  In the weeks leading up 
to the congress, PSD heavyweights had attempted to 
choreograph an outcome for the congress in backroom meetings 
and elaborate power sharing arrangements.  Iliescu was slated 
to be voted party President and Nastase as Executive 
President, with other key party "barons" retuned to senior 
leadership slots.  Nonetheless, in the words of one PSD 
insider, events during the congress "turned these 
arrangements upside down."  The PSD was clearly "gasping for 
democratic air..... it finally arrived." 
 
3. (C) The backroom deals began to crumble in the Congress' 
first hour when Iliescu announced to the assembled delegates 
that we would give the floor to "Comrade" Nastase, a taboo 
term since the fall of communism.  Although he quickly 
retracted his slip of the tongue, the delegates reacted with 
a collective gasp of astonishment, shocked laughter and a 
buzz of conversation that continued for the next several 
minutes.  A few minutes later, Nastase attempted to make 
light of Iliescu's faux pas by addressing his remarks to 
"friends, colleagues and comrades." Delegates laughed 
appreciatively, but Iliescu's untoward remark hung in the air 
for the rest of the Congress.  Some delegates remarked to 
PolOffs that Iliescu -- who chaired most of the proceedings 
-- strangely came across throughout the congress as an odd 
mix of a "befuddled grandfather" and "old school party 
apparatchik."  His calls for votes by acclamation on 
organizational matters even resembled the structure of a 
Ceausescu era party meeting, with no calls for dissenting 
votes or abstentions.  While many delegates expected that 
former FM Geoana would receive a respectable showing in his 
challenge against Iliescu for the party presidency, it was 
Iliescu's poor performance during that day that tipped the 
balance firmly in Geoana's favor. 
 
4. (C) The nail in the coffin for Iliescu's bid to return to 
the helm of the party he founded was his wooden delivery in 
his two addresses to the assembled delegates.  He offered no 
new vision for a party still trying to define itself after 
its December defeat and beleaguered by continued allegations 
of corruption and communist old-think.  Rather than imparting 
inspiration and wisdom as some PSD contacts said they had 
hoped to hear, he simply said he had "no personal ambitions" 
and claimed to have the experience, authority, and morality 
necessary for returning to the helm of the PSD.  He also 
called himself a "coagulant" who could bring the party 
together.  Instead, as one PSD contact joked to PolOff, his 
support continued to "hemorrhage" throughout the day and 
evening. 
 
5. (C) In stark contrast, a youthful and energetic Geoana 
delivered, in the words of Nastase, "the best speech of his 
political career."  Geoana stated that he had delayed 
throwing himself into the competition for the party 
presidency because he expected a "top-down reform" that never 
came. He said now was the time to begin a "bottom-up 
transformation" to revitalize the party, and he promised 
delegates that he and other key reformers could effect that 
change.  He referred to the previous weeks as "devastating" 
for the party, due partially to a growing scandal involving 
Syrian Businessman Omar Hayssam and some of PSD's most senior 
leaders.  (Note:  Credible reports tie Hayssam to the 
kidnapping of three Romanian news people in Iraq in a 
complicated scheme to launder money and/or escape judicial 
attention for various economic crimes.)  He hoped for a PSD 
that "members would be proud of again" and urged delegates to 
end their current inertia in favor of implementing needed 
change.  He extended an olive branch to Iliescu, assuring him 
that he would always have an important place in the party. 
However, he criticized his rival for failing to willingly 
step down in favor of the next generation. 
 
6. (C) Geoana's calls for reform did not occur in a vacuum; 
he was preceded by a series of like-minded speakers who 
called for reform in the party, including his ally and former 
Interior Minister Ioan Rus, who proclaimed "a lack of vision 
is worse than blindness.... we need leaders who transform 
vision into action."  He maintained that PSD "could not 
afford to move backwards."  Rus also pointed out that PSD was 
failing to attract young voters, including the children of 
its own members.  Rus' call for reform, coupled with his 
private support for Geoana, proved to be critical in turning 
the crowd. 
 
A Sea Change for PSD 
-------------------- 
7.  (C) The rising tide against Iliescu turned into a tsunami 
when key party leaders began to shift their support towards 
Geoana throughout the day.  A key player was Mitrea, who has 
a strong local base in Vrancea country and developed an 
extensive network of friends and allies during his tenure as 
Transport Minister in the last government.  Mitrea and his 
base were miffed by Iliescu's refusal to support the latter's 
candidacy for the party's number three slot of Secretary 
General. Mitrea -- along with several local leaders in his 
camp -- reportedly openly urged delegates in the lobby of the 
convention site to vote for Geoana.  According to one 
contact, Mitrea easily swayed support towards Geoana by as 
much as 200-300 votes.  At the same time, Rus' group, 
comprised loosely of delegates from ten Transylvania 
counties, brought several hundred additional votes for 
Geoana.  Rus also urged his delegates to support Mitrea, in 
exchange for Mitrea's support for Geoana.  Meanwhile, one PSD 
insider told post that PSD stalwarts -- Viorel Hrebenciuc, 
Octav Cozmanca, Dan Matei Agathon, and Dan Ion Popescu -- 
attempted to keep together alliances that they had relied on 
since the early 1990's.  However, their pleas "fell upon deaf 
ears," as many delegates and emerging leaders saw them as 
liabilities for the party. 
 
Secret Ballot "Liberates" Party 
 
SIPDIS 
------------------------------- 
8. (C) At the same time, the implementation of a secret 
ballot was also fundamental in the outcome of the vote.  The 
decision to move in this direction came as result of immense 
pressure after the December defeat to present a clear image 
of internal democratic reform.  All previous elections for 
the PSD leadership had been orchestrated in backrooms without 
competition.  PSD contacts confess openly that if that had 
been the formula again, Iliescu would have not even been 
challenged.  In a speech at the congress, former PSD 
vice-president Sorin Oprescu asserted that the secret ballot 
was fundamental for party reform, as from then on no one 
could predetermine "who, how or what" the party would be.  He 
compared the institution of secret ballots with the 
liberation of "slaves on a plantation."  While various 
leaders were seen hovering by voting booths to pressure 
delegates, several PSD contacts told post that this was by 
far the most free internal vote the PSD rank-and-file have 
ever had. 
 
Others At The Top 
----------------- 
9.  (C) Beyond Goeana's surprise victory, key reformers made 
headway in gaining other important positions in the new 
leadership structure, including seven of the eleven party 
vice presidencies.  These include Rus; former Finance 
Minister Mihai Tanasescu; former Agriculture Minister Ilie 
Sarbu; former IT Minister Dan Nica; former party spokesperson 
Titus Corlatean; and leader of the PSD Women's Organization 
Rovana Plumb.  However, several old faces remain.  In fact, 
the number two and three slots in the party will be filled by 
Nastase as Executive President and Mitrea as Secretary 
General.  Mitrea is closely associated with the old guard, 
whereas Nastase maintains important links both with party 
stalwarts and reformists.  In additions, four solid Iliescu 
allies were among those elected to the eleven party vice 
president slots.  These include respected ex-DefMin Ioan 
Mircea Pascu; Senate President Nicolae Vacaroiu; former 
Chamber of Deputies President Valer Dorneanu; and, Iliescu 
protege and longstanding adviser Corina Cretu. 
 
10. (C) However, some of the PSD's most controversial 
longstanding political operatives, including several Iliescu 
allies, either failed to run for a VP slot or did not muster 
enough votes to win a position.  Failed candidates include 
Bacau-based behind-the-scenes power broker Viorel Hrebenciuc, 
longstanding Iliescu crony and former national security 
adviser Ioan Talpes, Iliescu ally Dan Ioan Popescu, and 
ex-Tourism Minister Agathon.  All four have been publicly 
linked with high profile corruption scandals.  Perhaps 
sensing the handwriting on the wall, several other prominent 
PSD pols and longtime Iliescu allies declined to run for VP 
posts: Octav Cozmanca, Serban Mihaelescu, Ion Salcanu, and 
Doru Ioan Taracila. 
 
Comment: What a Difference a Day Makes 
-------------------------------------- 
11. (C) Many analysts have likened Geoana's surprise 
ascension in the PSD to the December 12 surprise victory of 
center-right President Traian Basescu.  Both events are 
milestones in Romania's democratic development, representing 
a clear break with the country's communist past.  For the 
first time ever, the majority of PSD senior leaders do not 
track their roots to the senior levels of the former 
communist party.  Geoana, Rus, and other reformers will 
continue to face entrenched opposition from some segments of 
the old guard, notably Mitrea and Nastase who remain in 
powerful positions.  Also not to be underestimated is the 
economic and political clout of entrenched local 
organizations.  Nonetheless, the reformers' victory means the 
PSD will now be better positioned to address the allegations 
of corruption and stagnation that have plagued the party for 
more than a decade.  More fundamentally, these fresh but 
well-known faces may also ensure the PSD survives as a 
political force for the next elections and beyond. 
 
12.  AmEmbassy Bucharest's Reporting telegrams, as well as 
daily press summaries, are available on the Bucharest SIPRNet 
website:  www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/bucharest 
DELARE 

            
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