Romania’s Dark Horse up to the Challenge
November’s presidential elections left Romania in a state of astonishment that appears to be positively regarded both within the country and beyond its borders. The pre-run-off opinion polls as well as estimations of experts preceding the voting had indicated the victory of the Social Democrats leader, incumbent Prime Minister Victor Ponta – “The Social Democrats are riding high in opinion polls. Mr Ponta basically has no counter-candidate,” claimed Laura Stefan from Experts’ Forum, a Romanian think-tank. However, things did not turn out as expected.
The massive turnout of 62% of all Romanians entitled to vote gave the opponent Klaus Iohannis an advantage that has been turned into victory, receiving almost 10% more votes than the current PM. Such a huge discrepancy between the predicted results and the actual outcome is due to a few factors that PSD (The Social Democratic Party) either disregarded or didn’t take proper care of. What is claimed to be decisive is the horrendous negligence of diaspora’s abroad voting. Masses of Romanians were queuing for long hours in front of the embassies and many did not manage to make it to the ballot-box. It was known that these voters were way more likely to choose the centre-right candidate rather than Ponta, so indifference of the government indicated its partiality. Fighting for fair democracy people in Romania poured out onto the streets to protest and ran up such a heavy poll. For many this sign of social action is considered significant and path-breaking. Media were predominated by the social democrats’ campaign and nevertheless the other side’s message was heard and the public decided on their own. According to the political analyst Emil Hurezeanu “through Iohannis, the logistics of the public sphere have won the fight over the political system”.
Klaus Iohannis may occur as a relatively new face in Romania’s main political scene. Relatively, because in the past he has taken a part in the countries ruling, albeit in a smaller scale – as a mayor of Sibiu (Transylvania). However this is not the most distinctive feature of the front-runner. To external as well as internal observers it might have come as a surprise that the chosen president is a representative of the ethnic German Protestant minority. Victor Punta theoretically did not show it as his opponent’s downside, but the topic was brought up a few times, deliberately pointing out the obvious difference between the candidates. It did not turn out to be a negative asset of Iohannis though. Some experts even claim that it might have aided him, as Germany is associated with order, progress and modernisation. Iohannis is a real example of pushing these qualities in his own field of reign – Sibiu, a city that turned into one of the greatest tourist attractions of the region and in 2007 was voted to be the European City of Culture, along with the well-known Luxembourg. In 2014 he became the leader of the National Liberal Party, when he was invited to join only a year before by the former head Crin Antonescu. A fact that was not recalled often is that he was partly involved in greater politics already in 2009, when he became a candidate proposed by the opposition to substitute the then Prime Minister. Romania’s government, struggling with the crisis at the time had split and was incapable of pushing for further reforms. However the outgoing President Traian Basescu had opposed the candidature and put his charge forward.
Iohannis is seen as the person that will finally bring some fresh input into Romanian politics. Although Romania is not a presidential republic, the president has his hand in foreign policy, military and judiciary authorities nomination. With that kind of power the newly elected Head of state first of all wants to cease the galloping corruption and revamp the judiciary system, leaning towards its absolute independence, which in the long-term can rebuild lost trust towards state institutions. He appears as the promoter of the rule of law that Romania starves for. An aim in his term of office is also to prioritize tightening relations with the European Union, general pro-Western policy and to a lesser extent opening up to the Chinese market and Russia, which is a good sign for the current geopolitical situation. Consequent adoption of the depicted points gives a fair chance to make the awaited changes. Romania is one of the poorest countries in the EU and despite its 1.9 % in GDP growth, its development increases very slowly. Infrastructure needs to expand and better organisation has to be introduced. According to the Corruption Index, Romania stands at 66th place, occupying one of lowest positions in Europe. Due to the messy ruling and lack of perspectives lots of Romanians left to live abroad, especially those with a higher-education that has created a brain-drain effect that eventually can significantly hamper the developing economy.
The new Romanian representative seems to be motivated and ready to take action. It cannot be forgotten though that he is not the only one on the board. The defeated candidate still remains Prime Minister with no intention to resign. A lot of issues stay in his hands. The future cooperation between these two is key to pushing the progress forward. People might remember that the former combination Brasescu-Ponta was far from being fruitful, a compromise was hard to achieve even at the choice of the representative roles i.e. who is to be the Romanian delegate in the European Council Summit. These minor issues cannot take lead and fortunately it seems that Iohannis’s cooperation with Ponta is likely to run more smoothly. With the former mayor of Sibiu come good prospects that Romania can adjust some of the proverbial German order to their politics so as to rise up to their potential. It remains to be seen if Iohannis slogan “change the way we make politics” is about to become true.