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Romania: Embattled President Takes On Political Elite

Traian Basescu (file photo) (RFE/RL) BUCHAREST, May 14, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- On April 19, Romania's parliament voted to suspend President Traian Basescu over allegations that he abused his position. On May 19, a referendum will be held on whether to impeach him. RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service correspondent Lucian Stefanescu spoke to Basescu about the situation on May 11.

RFE/RL: If the voters say "yes" in the referendum, your chances to run in the eventual anticipated presidential election drop significantly. If you had resigned, you had an opportunity for balanced scrutiny. Why didn't you do so? Opposition Social Democrats leader Mircea Geoana said the parties allied against you would not touch your electoral rights.

Traian Basescu: It's hard to believe this, if we look at the fact that after having me suspended, they have modified the election law, making it easier to impeach the president, maintaining at the same time quite tough conditions to keep the president in office. They have created an imbalance between an easy revocation and the difficulty of maintenance.

And even more: the parliament has issued a decision by which it assumes the right to decide what happens to the president. So, I do not think that something would have kept them away from the idea to legislate in a way to deny the president the right to seek another term, should I have resigned.

RFE/RL: King Mihai thinks that a new constitution is necessary, a European one, in order to set up clear roles for the institutions of the Romanian state. A declaration resembling somewhat your own point of view, isn't it?

Basescu: Yes, as head of state, King Mihai understands very well our situation. The current constitution does not provide any solutions in the case there are disputes between the powers of the government. None of the powers in the state -- no matter whether it is about the judiciary, or the Constitutional Court, or the parliament, or the executive -- controls the levers to unlock this political situation.

RFE/RL: Continuing about King Mihai, I remember that businessman Dinu Patriciu talked in an interview published recently in the "Cotidianul" [newspaper], if I am not mistaken, about monarchy, about restoration of the monarchy in Romania.

Basescu: These are options. We have to see what the Romanians want indeed.

RFE/RL: You are president acting as a player, and you prefer a presidential republic after the French model. Why would such a state organization be better for Romania?

Basescu: This is not about someone's preferences. Before amending the constitution, we have to ask the Romanian citizens what they want, because you can't really propose to them a project they would not vote for. From my point of view, any solution is good, if it is functional in the constitution. An essential condition for this solution is its acceptance by and the willingness of Romanians. There is no use in proposing a parliamentary republic, if the voters want a semi-presidential one, and no use in proposing a monarchy, if they want the republic. Therefore we must take into account the will of the 22 million Romanians and give them a constitution in compliance with their will.

RFE/RL: You have demanded a breaking up of the business world from the political class. What is your opinion about adopting new legislation on subvention of parties, to make the relation between business and politics clearer and more transparent?

Basescu: I am not demanding a breakup between the business world and the political class. They cannot live without each other, and the politicians have to feel always the pulse of the business community. What I want is a rupture of the oligarch from politics.

Oligarchs should not be confused with the business community. They are the few who have made fortunes thanks to facilities from government, people who have become very rich and now give orders to politicians, those who are supported financially by the oligarchs and who have turned into puppets of certain businessmen like [Conservative Party leader Dan] Voiculescu, [Rompetrol owner Dinu] Patriciu, and many others. Some people like Mr. Voiculescu have founded political parties, in order to protect their business interests. Dinu Patriciu controls fully the leadership of the National Liberal Party, to which the prime minister of this country belongs.

This is what I demand: the people who have made fortunes thanks to the laws serving the interests of certain men, rather than the general public interest. These very rich people have to understand that they are not in control of political power, too. At this moment, the risk Romania runs consists in the fact that the decision is made by people who are not elected and politicians act as monkeys reacting to orders of very rich individuals.

RFE/RL: There are people in Romania who are not part of your camp, or the camp of your opponents, and who claim -- and I have heard this point of view -- that in fact you are one of them, and that the struggle actually takes place between you and them, while you all belong to the same camp.

Basescu: This is the sort of confusion for which these people paid a lot of money to bring about. I said there were groups of illegitimate interests, who have started full-sized campaigns on television and in the press they control, in an attempt to demonstrate that the president, too, is surrounded by an interest group of people. When I asked for the detachment of the oligarchy from political decisions, they immediately began building a ring of oligarchs around the president.

I assure you that I am a free man, independent, without any nontransparent links with the business community, and that I do and say I do because I believe this must exist in Romania from now on, but not because someone pushes me to do so. I have a major obligation toward the Romanian people, to whom I promised to change Romania: to sweep out the misery of transition from all the institutions of the state.

RFE/RL: You have spoken in favor of a consolidation of the right-wing forces. Is there any place for the New Generation Party in this construction?

Basescu: I do not bear in mind such declarations. But I do know a thing of principle -- the right-wing forces in Romania need to unite. It is, however, a job of party leaders to decide how -- and if they want -- to achieve this. As for myself, I remain a strong supporter of the idea that the right-wing forces have to ally. I was among the supporters of the Justice and Truth Alliance as a premise for the unification of right-wing forces.

RFE/RL: If you remain in the presidential palace after May 19, who will you negotiate with and talk to? Aren't you afraid of remaining an isolated president, who always turns to referendums in order to be heard?

Basescu: I don't think I am in this position, if still we can talk about democracy in Romania. This is going to be the test after May 19. On that date, the voters will choose between my program and the program of those 322 parliamentarians....

RFE/RL: Their program is to stop you from going back to the presidential palace....

Basescu: Yes...and to maintain the transition era. This is hidden beneath this vote and under the disputes -- which are sometimes personalized -- between the president and the prime minister, between the president and the leader of the Chamber of Deputies. So, on May 19 Romanians will cast their ballots for one side or the other. Those who neglect this vote will have to think 10 times whether politics is their call. If I win the referendum, the parliament will have to take into account my options and to transform them into reality for Romanians. If the parliament wins, and I am dismissed, that means I was wrong in my views. However, I have no doubts about myself.

RFE/RL: You have implied that your impeachment could have been influenced from outside, especially from the east, from Russia. Is there any gray hole certain politicians in Bucharest want to introduce in the foreign policy of Romania?

Basescu: There is pressure in favor of privileged relations with the Russian Federation, and I am not opposing this trend. I reject just the eventual costs of such relations. My entire foreign policy has focused on getting Romania out of the gray zone. A country that was controlled by the Soviet Union for 50 years, a country that later experienced 17 years of transition definitely can still feel enough influence from its recent past.

My option was to make a U-turn to the West, on a strategic partnership with the United States, on one hand, and an accelerated process of preparation for entry in the European Union, one the other hand -- and this happened on January 1, 2007. Concerning the relations with the East, I am an advocate of fair economic relations. Just that. As for the other things, our future is connected to the developments in the West, not the East.

RFE/RL: What is the role of Romania as a regional leader, a role you have fiercely defended in the Black Sea basin, with Russian leaders becoming angry with you for the declaration that they wanted you to leave?

Basescu: It is the right of anyone to get angry. The reality is that Romania is a state at the eastern border of NATO and of the European Union, a state that is obliged to assume the responsibility of a border country. At the same time, it is a country large enough to understand the geopolitical realities of its region.

Remember that Romania was the first country to ring alarm bells back in 2005 about the need to find energy-supply alternatives from the Caspian zone, in order to create alternatives to the crude oil and natural gas from the Russian Federation. Not because I don't trust the partnership with the Russian Federation; the idea is to create an open market, a competitive market where price suffocation does not exist and where the gas/oil supply is not disrupted.

Look at Estonia today, remember the incident with Belarus last winter, and Ukraine two winters ago. For this reason, an alternative is necessary and I have strived to channel a part of the political energy we own in this region to the common use of Europe -- the creation of an energy alternative.

RFE/RL: Coming back to the political turmoil in Romania, can you compare the situation in Romania today with that of Ukraine?

No, there is no connection. Romania is, without doubt, a democracy built during 17 years. We are not in a position to discuss situations featuring a Romania sliding backward. The current crisis is just a moment in which the country will take a step forward, once it escapes it. It was probably born from a reaction to the unexpected, abrupt transformation that I demanded, I insisted upon, and for which we walked ahead.

Concerning the independence of the judiciary, the courage, if you like, to condemn the crimes of communism officially, concerning the opening of the political police archives -- a move to free Romanians from any attempt to blackmail, if you like, the courage to speak publicly, to demand publicly for the judiciary to remove people who live above the law, even though they are very powerful.

All these things have probably produced a shock within the political class. The May 19 vote will show whether the population supports such an approach, and it will also show whether the population supports what I seek to introduce -- the uninominal vote. And if the people support my initiatives, I am convinced that the politicians will understand the signal and will adopt a rapid modernization program for Romania.

RFE/RL: U.S. Ambassador in Bucharest [Nicholas] Taubman and Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried have both spoken about the crisis in Romania. How does this U.S. perception of things influence Romania's credibility and capability of action internationally? Is there any harm for Romania's status as a trusted partner within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, if the country changes its foreign policy according to its internal struggle?

Basescu: Well, Romania has not changed any segment of its foreign policy, not one priority. I maintain my point of view that Romania must comply with all of its earlier assumed commitments, even though other governments agreed to them, including the assistance our troops provide in Iraq, as a test of our seriousness in commitments.

You just spoke about a political crisis.... Lord forgive us: many countries in Europe are facing political crises, but this does not discredit them to any extent. Only actions demonstrating a lack of predictability erode credibility, and Romania for the time being remains predictable about its commitments, even though there are politicians who seek changes in our foreign policy.

RFE/RL: What will be your policy regarding the Republic of Moldova -- will it be more offensive, more defensive?

Basescu: I do not have any offensive or defensive policy here. Irrespective of the stance in Chisinau, I will continue to support my agreement with President [Vladimir] Voronin. That means I will support the Republic of Moldova in its advance toward eventual integration within the European Union at a given moment. This is what we agreed upon in our discussions with President Voronin, and I am not going to make any retreat from that agreement -- no matter how Chisinau reacts.

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