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Romania: Opposition Party In Turmoil

Prague, 6 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - The Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) is to hold this month its annual national conference, its first major gathering since having been voted out of power last fall. The question is whether the party will be able to win back voters disillusioned with its seven-year rule following the fall of communism.

Few political analysts would dispute that the communist ideology, which guided the PDSR leaders before 1989, is obsolete. Moreover, the party was widely regarded as corrupt.

The possibility of a new united leadership capable of bringing the party back to power seems more remote than ever. The upper echelons of the PDSR seem increasingly engaged in a "war of all against all." Nothing illustrates this better than the recent public dispute between PDSR deputy Iosif Boda, on the one hand, and Ion Iliescu, Romania's former president and PDSR chairman, and one of his deputies, Adrian Nastase, on the other hand.

Boda, former ambassador to Switherland who was the manager of Iliescu's ill-fated presidential campaign in 1996, accused Nastase of leading the party to a dead-end and demanded his resignation. He was in turn harshly criticized by Iliescu, who demanded that Boda leave the party. But Boda has received only a warning from the party, although, according to sources in the PDSR, his eventual expulsion cannot be ruled out.

Iliescu acted in a manner reminiscent of how he himself was treated by his presidential predecessor, Nicolae Ceausescu. This, in itself, is not surprising, given that Boda destroyed what Ceausescu would have called "the party-unity monolith." But the conflict is a lot more complicated than that.

There are two additional ways to look at the rifts in the PDSR.

One, a"Kremlinological" approach, would search for alliances, acts of treason, and realignments within the party. It would also consider the implications of Boda having called for Nastase's replacement by another PDSR deputy chairman, former Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu.

At the Sibiu branch PDSR regional conference, some delegates had earlier called for Iliescu's replacement as party chairman by Melescanu--a call reiterated at least at one other gathering of a PDSR branch. Until then, Iliescu was generally considered opposed to Nastase, who, justifiably or not, is perceived as embodying all the defects that helped the PDSR loose power, including corruption.

The "Kremlinologists" would also emphasize that the "enemies of my enemy" are "my friends" and that Nastase is therefore Iliescu's buddy once again. The "Kremlinologists" would also point to an ongoing ideological dispute. Boda and Melescanu are known to belong to a group that wants to forge a Western-style, social-democratic identity for the PDSR (one of its members, the Iasi deputy Mugurel Vintila, even called it the Social Democratic Movement of Romania). The group is said to be opposed by another that wants the PDSR to form an alliance with the leftist-nationalist opposition represented in the parliament.

The trouble is that the "players" in this game of ideological musical chairs seem to change camps, leaving it unclear where either Iliescu or Nastase stands.

A second approach, one that is more sociological than "Kremlinologist," may be more appropriate. As a "clientelist" party, the PDSR has been left in a most precarious position. Not only is it no longer able to "distribute goods" to prospective allies, but its members have been brusquely removed from influential positions in state structures and leading economic institutions.

Seen from this perspective, the "war of all against all" within the PDSR is perhaps no more than a struggle over diminished resources.