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OPINION Conflict on repeat at the leadership of Romania's governing PSD party. What are the assets of rivals Dragnea and Tudose and who is the third way

de Cristian Pantazi, transl. Editorial Staff Luni, 15 ianuarie 2018, 15:40
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The second conflict between Liviu Dragnea, the leader of Romania's governing Social Democratic Party (PSD), and PSD's PM Mihai Tudose comes in less than a year and throws PSD back into the crisis. The confrontation between the two has a new episode today, under the eyes of the so-called barons - influential local PSD leaders across the country - who want more power. The discussion is based on a different reality from the previous conflict with Tudose's deposed predecessor, Sorin Grindeanu: now, Liviu Dragnea no longer has the parliamentary majority to beat the Government, nor is it certain that Iohannis will appoint a new PSD prime minister. TOP PSD figures such as Bucharest mayor Gabriela Firea and minister Lia Olguta Vasilescu, allied so far with Dragnea, also see the opportunity of the moment.



What is the same as in the summer of 2017? The conflict between the party's president, Liviu Dragnea, demanding total government control, and the party's prime minister who does not want to answer all the orders (then Sorin Grindeanu, now Mihai Tudose).

What's different from the summer of 2017? First of all, PSD no longer responds to the orders of Liviu Dragnea as they did last summer. In fact, many of the powerful local barons, who bring votes and money to the party, have become tired of Liviu Dragnea's strict control in government and administration (they want their own state secretaries, heads of government agencies, etc.), as HotNews.ro journalist Dan Tapalaga has pointed out. Second, Liviu Dragnea no longer has, at least for the moment, the parliamentary majority for the change of Government in Parliament. This is the great vulnerability of the PSD president.

In fact, this was the loss suffered by Dragnea. Last summer, he managed to persuade the party that the change of the prime minister was a viable political option and the party, as well as the partner ALDE party, followed him. But this time, losing the support of many local barons is a loss of majority in Parliament.

This means that the threat of dismissal of the government or scenarios with the resignation of ministers, coming  from sources in the Dragnea area, are powerless. Just think that many Government officials will remain with the Prime Minister (Deputy Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu, Transport Minister Felix Stroe, Economy Minister Gheorghe Simon, Fund Minister Marius Nica) the resignation of the rest of the ministers would be a total fiasco. Tudose, and his supporters know Liviu Dragnea can not dismiss him as he did to Grindeanu. This is where the Tudose camp is about to get rid of yet another key man of Liviu Dragnea - Interior minister Carmen Dan - after doing the same thing last fall with ex-ministers Sevil Shhaideh and Rovana Plumb.

Moreover, knowing the hemorrhage of supporters of the Liviu Dragnea camp, the Tudose camp also considers the replacement of the PSD chief from the leadership of the Chamber of Deputies. Lacking from the symbolism of the third position in the state, Liviu Dragnea would lose a lot of political influence.

Another asset lost by Liviu Dragnea is linked to the name of the future prime minister in the event of the fall of the Tudose government. Last summer he managed to pull out from Iohannis another PSD name, although we know since then that Tudose was not a favorite of Dragnea. Now, President Iohannis has given some signals that a new crisis in PSD will not have the same outcome. Iohannis could once again call Tudose, with whom he had decent relationships, and PSD lawmakers would vote again to avoid the horror script for them of the early elections.

Tudose and his camp know this. The prime minister attracted the barons with the largest number of MPs: those from the counties of Buzau, Constanta, Iasi, Giurgiu, Vrancea, Dambovita, Timis, Caras, Bacau, Braila and Galati. Without the parliamentarians of these counties the Government cannot be taken down, no other government can be called. That's why Tudose goes to the PSD leadership committee today conscious that he can not have Grindeanu's fate. But if he fails to get out his point of view and make Carmen Dan to go, he will be seen as a dead horse in the party, and the barons will stand back.

The question is how Tudose will react if Dragnea succeeds in withdrawing its political support from today's leadership committee. Will he withstand the pressure of the barons or resign? Has he enough power to face his opponent and eventually rule without the support of an important part of the PSD? There is a scenario unrelated to the two camps. Gabriela Firea came out last weekend with a message criticizing Dragnea and Tudose - a first for the mayor who had used the PSD with a positive attitude towards Liviu Dragnea. But she has a clear political calculation: she would like to see herself in the party as "the third way", the clean alternative to Dragnea and Tudose.
Benefiting from the strong support of her husband, Florentin Pandele, Firea tries the waters. Even though she is the PSD member with the most votes received in elections, the mayor of the capital city does not enjoy too much support within the party.

Lia Olguta Vasilescu, the former component of Liviu Dragnea's pretorian guard, also seems to play. At the beginning of the year, Vasilescu had withdrawn strategically on a long-term leave in Cuba, arriving now  to excuse her absence from the supporters of Liviu Dragnea. Now, the former ally of  the PSD chief is unusually silent, and there are signals that she also wants a water test in the party. Not by accident her friend, Claudiu Manda, sent signals to the Tudose camp that she is ready to deny Liviu Dragnea.

Tudose has a great chance of getting Carmen Dan to leave and accepting the change of tens of state secretaries set up by Liviu Dragnea. But the attack on Dragnea's positions in the party and the Chamber of Deputies will be postponed until the party knows whether Tudose has the force of a new alpha male.
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