Vol. 1, No. 8, 8 December 1997
A NEW BEGINNING FOR ROMANIA'S GOVERNMENT?
by Michael Shafir
Victor Ciorbea's 2 December reshuffle of his cabinet was
hardly unexpected. In fact, a reorganization of the government
had been in the offing for nearly two months. The
postponement was symptomatic of what had made the
reshuffle necessary in the first place: a decision-making
paralysis induced by the incapability to heed the primary rule
for a functioning coalition--namely, bargaining and compromise
recognized as a legitimate endeavor.
In the case of Romania, the difficulty of democratic
apprenticeship is exacerbated by the absence of a political
tradition of compromise. Romania had had no coalition
government before communism was imposed on the country.
Nor did it have the experience of political bargaining that
emerged in other former communist countries ( Bulgaria,
Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland) as an outcome
of the "round-table" negotiations that either preceded or
shortly followed the fall of the communist regime. Instead of
collaborating in the implementation of a much-needed reform
program to which they had agreed, the coalition partners have
tried to impose their views on the others. This has often meant
attempting to impose their own people at the head of the
structures tasked with carrying out reform.
To complicate matters, Ciorbea's team is not merely a
coalition; rather, it is a "coalition of coalitions" since each of its
three main components--the Democratic Convention of Romania
(CDR), the Social Democratic Union (USD), and the Hungarian
Democratic Federation of Romania--is an alliance of different
political persuasions. This makes bargaining and compromise
even more difficult, since both must take place at three levels:
the party, the parliamentary faction, and the government itself.
Hence, the constant public bickering among coalition
members, leading to paralysis. Microstabilization of the
economy has not followed the macrostabilization achieved by
the government at the outset of its term as a result of the
liberalization of prices and the exchange rate. Restructuring
and privatization began encountering serious difficulties owing
to an inability to compromise on legislation. One of the
outcomes was insecurity among potential foreign investors.
Hopes of quickly closing the gap between Romania and other
countries that had earlier embarked on reform began to fade.
The reshuffle is an attempt to deal with that problem.
If it is to achieve its purpose, the new government must,
above all, instill discipline among its members and give
coherence to the cabinet as a whole. Ministers will have to stop
playing to different tunes and the factions that make up the
parliamentary majority will have to ensure discipline among
their own members. Finally, the authority of the premier
himself will have to be increased, since until now Ciorbea has
been more of a mediator than a leader.
There are indications that some lessons have been
learned. To enhance his authority within the National Peasant
Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD), Ciorbea was made a party
deputy chairman on 5 December. Several days earlier, he had
told journalists that in the future, ministers will have to stop
playing "infantile games" with the press and adhere to the
rules of collective government responsibility. If they failed to
do so, either they would "find themselves out of the cabinet" or
he would resign, Ciorbea threatened.
Whether such warnings are sufficient remains to be seen.
The newly established Ministry of Privatization is meant to
overcome some of the dysfunctions. The portfolio is held by
former presidential counselor Valentin Ionescu, a PNTCD
member. But the Democratic Party, the main component of the
USD, made no secret of the fact that it would have liked that
ministry. More bickering ahead, perhaps?
The CDR paid the heaviest toll in the reshuffle. Minister
of Reform Ulm Spineanu, Education Minister Virgil Petrescu,
and Health Minister Stefan Dragulescu--all of whom are
members of the PNTCD, one of the main components of the
CDR--were replaced by ministers with no party affiliation (Ilie
Serbanescu, Andrei Marga, and Ion Victor Bruckner,
respectively). Finance Minister Mircea Ciumara of the PNTCD
took over the industry and commerce portfolio, making room
for yet another independent, Daniel Daianu, at the Finance
Ministry. This speaks volumes for the managerial capabilities
of a party that boasted it had 15,000 members ready to
assume responsibility of all governmental structures.
Is the PNTCD caucus likely to gracefully accept the
humiliation or will there be revolt in its ranks? The other main
component of the CDR, the National Liberal Party (PNL), came
out of the reshuffle only slightly better off than the PNTCD. It
saw the departure of the influential Calin Popescu-Tariceanu
from ministers were replaced by other PNL members. There are
already indications that the PNL is dissatisfied with the
reshuffle. If the new government is unable to instill discipline
among its ministers and its supporters within the parliament,
the future of not only the cabinet but also the country's reform
process will be at stake.
Copyright (c) 1997 RFE/RL, Inc.
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