It’s been far, far too long since we had a proper look at the mad, bad world of Romanian politics, so much so that we have even had people sending us emails demanding to find out what we think about the upcoming presidential election.
So, with the long Romanian summer now over, and finding ourselves with a bit of time on our hands, here – for the benefit of Mrs. Trellis of North Wales – is the current state of play ahead of the big vote (the first round of Romania’s presidential election is on November 2nd. Campaigning officially begins on October 3rd).
If you do not have the time to read this full post, the current edition of the Economist has a reasonably good briefing on the subject.
As we write, five candidates have thrown their hats into the ring: Prime Minister Victor Ponta, Mayor of Sibiu Klaus Iohannis, former Tourism Minister Elena Udrea, former Justice Minister Monica Macovei and the UDMR’s Kelemen Hunor. Other possible runners include former Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu and tabloid television presenter Dan Diaconescu. For the time being however we will concentrate on those who have actually announced their intention to run and who are in the rather ridiculous (and pointless) process of collecting the 200,000 signatures needed to officially secure a candidacy.
We shall start with the prime minister, Victor Viorel ‘Copy Paste’ Ponta.
The candidate of the ruling PSD, Ponta is the clear favourite to be Romania’s next president. Ponta will take between 35-40 per cent of the vote in the first round and will almost certainly have the most votes of any of the candidates. However, it is worth noting that just a couple of months ago there was much talk of Ponta winning the presidency in the first round (by taking 50 per cent of the vote). This is now highly unlikely, and Ponta’s falling popularity (for which there are many reasons) will at least mean that the second round – whoever Ponta faces in it – will not be a foregone conclusion.
While Ponta’s PSD is nominally a socialist party, it has – under his leadership – moved across to the far-right and now occupies much of the ground once the preserve of the extreme-nationalist Greater Romania Party, the PRM. Ponta’s adoption of Romanian nationalist symbols and ugly attacks on the ethnic background and religion of his probable main rival are tactics which come straight out of the playbook of former PRM leader Vadim Tudor.
The PRM itself is currently in disarray and does not appear capable of putting up a candidate in November; that its electorate and much of its membership has been seamlessly absorbed into the PSD speaks volumes. Indeed, the next time somebody tells you that Romania has no far-right political parties, we suggest laughing at them and telling them that a far-right party is actually running the country.
The most likely opponent for Ponta in the second round of the election is Klaus Iohannis, leader of the PNL and Mayor of Sibiu since 2000. Returned to office three times with positively Stalin-esque majorities, while Iohannis has – by Romanian standards – a relatively unblemished record on the corruption front (indeed, the only mud the PSD have found to throw at him in this sense is that he owns too much property), when it comes to national politics Iohannis is something of a non-entity.
Iohannis – of Saxon stock and a devout Lutheran – first appeared on the national stage in the autumn of 2009, as the prime minister-nominate of presidential candidate Mircea Geoana. Geoana of course lost that election to Traian Basescu, and Iohannis returned to the provinces to resume the successful running of Sibiu. On two recent trips to the impressive city we conducted some very unscientific polling amongst the locals. The worst anyone had to say about the man was a taxi driver who claimed that Iohannis had introduced far too many one-way systems.
To his inexperience at national level must be added the fact that Iohannis is a quiet man who says little. Neither is he a great public speaker, and he performs only adequately on television. Yet in a contest in which his opponent is the boisterous, pompous Victor Ponta, these things could be viewed as assets.
Whether we or their supporters like it or not, none of the other candidates have any real prospect of making the second round. Elena Udrea – a lady about whom we have written more than most – is well known to readers of these pages, Monica Macovei – a former Justice Minister – less so.
As much as we think a female president would represent a massive step forward for what remains a predominantly male-dominated society, we do not expect neither Udrea nor Macovei to get anything much above eight or nine per cent of the vote. They may well take an even smaller percentage, and this despite the very public support current president Traian Basescu has given Udrea. Interestingly, an opinion poll published this morning gives Udrea twice as many votes as Macovei. (The poll also places Iohannis just eight points behind Ponta in a second round run-off: if it is at all credible this news will start alarm bells ringing in the Ponta camp).
To add a little spice to the mix, Calin Popescu-Tariceanu has begun talking of yet another parliamentary suspension of Basescu. Tariceanu is proposing that parliament vote on a new suspension on September 23rd, with the subsequent impeachment referendum to be held concurrently with the first round of the presidential election. We have no idea what the motivation for a new suspension is: Basescu has less than three months left in office. Indeed, suspending Basescu means that he is no longer constitutionally forbidden from taking part in hustings: he would be able to actively lead the anti-Ponta campaign. We therefore think that Tariceanu is unlikely to get the support of Ponta and the PSD for the new suspension, but stranger things have happened. Watch this space.