05BUCHAREST1606 / 2005-07-19 14:22:00
Embassy Bucharest
                C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 001606 
 
SIPDIS 
 
STATE DEPT FOR EUR/NCE - JANE MESSENGER 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/19/2015 
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, KDEM, SOCI, RO, Election, biographic information, flood 
SUBJECT: NO NEW ELECTIONS -- PRIME MINISTER RETREATS ON 
RESIGNATION PLANS 
 
REF: A. BUCHAREST 1584 
 
     B. BUCHAREST 1557 
 
Classified By: POLITICAL SECTION CHIEF ROBERT S. GILCHRIST FOR REASONS 
1.4 (B) AND (D) 
 
1. (C) Summary:  Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu 
announced July 19 that he would not follow through with his 
earlier intention to resign and press for snap elections. 
The decision follows days of vacillation and what appeared to 
be a firm decision to step down as late as July 13. 
President Traian Basescu met with Tariceanu earlier in the 
day and was reportedly irritated with Tariceanu's indecision. 
 Meanwhile, much of the country remains preoccupied with 
widespread flooding, with the political opposition accusing 
the government of focusing on political bickering at a time 
of crisis.  While Tariceanu may have preserved his position 
in the short term, his vacillation has raised new doubts 
about his abilities to lead.  End Summary. 
 
2. (C) PM Tariceanu announced in a hastily called press 
conference late afternoon July 19 his intention to remain in 
office, characterizing resignation at this time as "an act of 
cowardice."  He underscored that given the current 
humanitarian crisis related to widespread flooding, "now is 
not the time to abandon the people" or to engage in 
"politicking or party infighting."  Tariceanu said that he 
had initially announced his intention to resign at a time 
when "we did not have floods."  He also claimed that during 
his recent trip to Brussels he had "received a message" to 
avoid political instability. 
 
3. (C) The announcement followed a morning of speculation by 
Embassy contacts that Tariceanu was retreating on his earlier 
commitment to step down.  One contact from Tariceanu's 
Liberal-Democratic (PNL-PD) Alliance said to PolChief that 
the decision "finally puts to rest" uncertainty as to whether 
the country would hold early elections.  However, the same 
contact added, many in the PNL-PD are "now disappointed" that 
the Alliance may have missed its "only opportunity" to widen 
its narrow parliamentary majority. 
 
Basescu Irritated 
------------------ 
4. (C) Tariceanu met with President Basescu earlier July 19 
for what was initially intended to be his formal resignation. 
 However, according to key presidential advisors, the PM 
confirmed to Basescu that he had changed his mind about 
resigning and pressing forward with new elections.  This 
decision was reportedly cemented by Basescu's reluctance to 
reappoint Tariceanu as interim prime minister.  The 
constitution stipulates that the position of interim PM must 
be filled by another cabinet member.  According to 
Presidential Advisor Claudiu Saftoiu, Basescu found deviating 
from this requirement or bending the rules "unacceptable." 
 
5. (C) Basescu was also reportedly "extremely irritated" with 
Tariceanu's vacillation and tried to convince him to stay the 
course.  Basescu left the meeting "disappointed" and departed 
Bucharest by helicopter to visit flood damaged areas, with no 
intention to meet Tariceanu again for the remainder of the 
day. 
 
Tariceanu's Trip to Brussels 
---------------------------- 
6. (C) Although some contacts opine that Tariceanu returned 
from his July 18 trip to Brussels with a belief that the EU 
opposed elections, sources with the most direct understanding 
of events say that was not the case.  EU Commissioner for 
Enlargement Ollie Rehn publicly expressed concern over 
Romania's "turbulent political situation which could...delay 
its planned entry in 2007."  However, the EU Ambassador to 
Romania Jonathan Scheele told Charge that Commissioners in 
fact gave a mixed message, with Commissioner Franco Frattini 
congratulating Tariceanu for taking a "courageous decision" 
to hold new elections and demonstrating Romania's commitment 
to deep reforms. 
 
7. (C) Scheele indicated that the EU mission here was 
embarrassed by the whole elections episode because the 
signals had changed so dramatically over the weekend -- after 
their briefers had gone into Brussels -- and because in the 
public eye it appeared to some that Tariceanu had buckled 
under EU pressure not to hold early elections. Until this 
week, Scheele said, he had still rated the chances for a 2007 
membership date vice 2008 as better than 50-50.  After the 
ongoing display of dysfunction -- he claimed some European 
investors were reacting nervously to ongoing events -- his 
own personal odds had probably dropped below the 50-50 
threshold.  At the same time, Brussels would not make a final 
judgment in its October report -- that would wait until next 
spring.  The jury was still out, for sure, and EU wanted to 
keep leverage as long as possible. 
 
8. (C) In Scheele's opinion, Tariceanu was finished 
politically  "one way or the other."  Scheele further opined 
that Tariceanu had recovered from his vacillation a week ago 
over the resignation only again to retreat on what was to be 
his final decision to resign.  Scheele commented dryly that 
perhaps Tariceanu should have consulted more widely before 
digging himself in deeper, including with the EU.  Scheele 
expressed his opinion that the PM was a very decent man, who 
had been a good interlocutor and with whom one could be frank 
and expect frank responses. 
 
Why the Wavering? 
------------------ 
9. (C) In addition to supposed EU concerns and worries about 
whether Basescu would reappoint him as PM, Embassy sources 
cite several other concerns Tariceanu likely considered in 
making his final decision.  First and foremost, the two 
smaller parties of his coalition -- the ethnic Hungarian 
party (UDMR) and the Conservative Party (PC) -- oppose a 
return to the polls due to concerns they will not meet the 
minimum threshold for returning to Parliament.  Tariceanu 
would have needed their parliamentary support to force new 
elections.  According to numerous sources, the PNL-PD was 
having "little success" in picking up sufficient votes from 
parliamentary independents to compensate for potential lack 
of PC or UDMR support.  In addition, some within the PNL-PD 
quietly opposed new elections, reluctant to return to the 
polls after a grueling year of elections in 2004.  Recently 
released opinion polls also showed a majority of the public 
opposed new elections. 
 
10. (C) Many PNL-PD politicians also worried about the optics 
of pressing for new elections against the backdrop of 
widespread flooding, the worse humanitarian disaster since 
the 1989 return to democracy.  The opposition was already 
using the situation to its political advantage. Most 
recently, on July 18, PSD Executive President and former PM 
Adrian Nastase criticized Basescu for refusing to declare a 
state of emergency, observing that a state of emergency is 
not limited only to instances in which the security of the 
state is under threat.  He directly criticized PNL-PD 
politicians for focusing on the possibility of snap 
elections, insisting that responding to the floods and 
achieving EU integration are Romania's key priorities. 
 
11. (C) Many Embassy contacts, however, ascribe the wavering 
to what appears to be Tariceanu's personal style of 
leadership, which they say increasingly appears to be 
"indecisive and unfocused."  Saftoiu said that many in the 
political majority now felt "embarrassed."  He expressed few 
doubts that over time these sentiments would be expressed 
more broadly and even publicly by many in the PNL-PD. 
 
12. (C) Comment:  While Tariceanu may have preserved his 
position in the short term, his vacillation has raised new 
doubts in the minds of many Romanians about his abilities to 
lead.  His stature within his coalition has undoubtedly 
declined tremendously over the past 12 days, with prospects 
for a diminished and demoralized government facing a 
reenergized opposition PSD.  Basescu's clear irritation and 
disappointment may also herald more overt tension between the 
president and the prime minister that may ultimately 
contribute to Tariceanu's premature ouster.  This could be 
magnified by a lukewarm EU country report on Romania 
scheduled to be released in October.  One local analyst 
opined to PolChief that Tariceanu had an opportunity to "show 
genuine leadership" through his daring move to call for new 
elections.  He squandered that opportunity, and his ability 
to revive his previously high approval rating has now been 
cast into doubt.  For the most part these wounds were 
self-inflicted by Tariceanu and represent a somewhat 
discouraging commentary on prospects for the PNL-PD to govern 
effectively and push forward on needed reforms.  End Comment. 
 
13. (U) 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. 
TAPLIN 

            
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