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05/12/2016

Romanians elect a new president in atmosphere of scandal

Central Europe

Romanians elect a new president in atmosphere of scandal

Klaus Ioahannis

On Sunday, Romanian citizens will chose their next President from 14 candidates, many of which have done little, if anything, to promote themselves or their proposals and programs. EurActiv Romania reports.

This is the first presidential campaign in the last 20 years that will reach a first round of voting without any interactions between candidates.

The reality of this campaign is that the two highest ranked candidates, present Prime Minister Victor Ponta (PSD) and Klaus Iohannis an ethnic German and candidate of the centre-right Romanian coalition ACL, (electoral Alliance of the National Liberal Party and the Democratic Liberal Party), are too far ahead in the polls.

>> Read: Ethnic German candidate brings suspense to Romania’s presidential race

As Ponta is polling at 40% and Iohannis, close to 30%, and all the others – below 10% – there is no reason to commit to a public debate that, in the absence of real political programs, will tackle the political scandals associated with the candidates.

Although several opportunities for debate presented themselves, some initiated by the media and others by civil society organizations, none of the main contestants seemed eager to participate. As such, most media electoral shows were conducted with just one candidate, illustrating an exercise in public speaking, and a chance for some of them to clear up criticisms and attacks received during the campaign.

Secret agents, corruption cases and incompatibility issues

Generally speaking, most post-1989 Romanian presidential elections have focused on two topics: the economy and the fight against corruption. In the last 20 years, Romanians have heard all kind of promises, ranging from better salaries and medical services, to the reform of the political class.

But this year, the presidential campaign has had very different directions, as most of the public speeches delivered by the candidates have been focused on scandals and justice-related issues. With the exception of Ponta, who as prime minister uses his daily activities as part of his campaign, there has been little if any discussions about health, the economy, even security issues.

The first major flare-up was the announcement of Traian B?sescu, the outgoing president, that one of the candidates has been or continues to be an undercover agent for a Romanian secret service. Following weeks of speculation, the president pointed at Victor Ponta and claimed that he has been an undercover agent of the Romanian Foreign Intelligence Service. The prime minister denied the accusation, but many questions remained unanswered.

At the same time, Ponta’s PSD has also been faced with several challenges. Two large corruption cases involving one of the main leaders of the party, Viorel Hrebenciuc, have shaken the party’s foundations, and the credibility of its representatives.

>> Read: Senior Romanian politician resigns in corruption scandal

Although Hrebenciuc has exited the public area of the presidential campaign – he has resigned from the Romanian Senate and is being currently detained for 30 days – there is no way of knowing how much it damaged Ponta’s campaign.

Conversely, Iohannis has been faced with the impending decision of the High Court of Cassation and Justice regarding his incompatibility case – a decision that may end his candidacy or even his presidential run – and with the accusation of lacking the material justification for owning six houses.

The first of these issues has stirred many debates, discussions and speculation regarding the reasons behind the trial date set by the High Court, and the procedures and regulations in the eventuality of an incompatibility ruling. The Court is set to convene on 18 November, two days after the second round of the election. If Klaus Iohannis wins the presidential seat, but receives an incompatibility ruling, most likely new elections will be held.

Although Iohannis has made several public attempts to explain how has was able to afford six houses, the problem has negatively affected his campaign.

An important third place

The battle for third place, and even for a chance at winning the presidential seat in the event of new post-November elections, is being fought between Monica Macovei, currently an MEP affiliated to the European People’s Party; Elena Udrea, a former liberal, now leader of the People’s Movement Party of B?sescu; former prime minister C?lin Popescu-T?riceanu  who now leads a new organization called the Liberal Reformist Party and Teodor Mele?canu, a former liberal foreign minister, until very recently serving as Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Romania. For each of these candidates, the presidential election appears also to be an opportunity to reaffirm their political status and influence.

Macovei has had a fairly consistent, but mostly online campaign. Benefiting from a significant voluntary mobilization, she has managed to use new instruments such as online games, drawings and even comic-like images to attract voters. She also enjoys the support of several Romanian public figures.

Udrea’s campaign started slowly. Similar to the two highest ranked candidates, she has been involved in political scandals, and is currently under media scrutiny,  after her former husband was indicted in the largest Romanian corruption case, dubbed “Micosoftgate”.

>> Read: ‘Microsoftgate’ scandal rocks Romania

After leaving his former PNL party, T?riceanu he has started to build a new political entity entitled the Liberal Reformist Party. He is currently ranked the third among the voting intentions of Romanian citizens and speculations have been made regarding his potential appointment as prime-minister by Ponta in the event of a social democrat success at the election.

Finally, Mele?canu ‘s entry in the electoral race has caused many discussions and speculations, especially in the midst of the “secret agent” scandal. 

Timeline

  • 2 November: First round of Presidential election;
  • 16 November: Second round of Presidential election.