Romanian opposition kicks off race for presidential candidate

Romanian opposition kicks off race for presidential candidate


By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest

The Romanian rightist opposition grouped around the democrat-liberals (PDL) has started the internal bid to find the candidate who will run next November when President Traian Basescu’s second term ends, in a race for the top job in the country which remains wide open, but which might produce some regrouping of the political forces.

The first to enter the race was Gheorghe Falca, the mayor of Arad, a city on the Western border of the country. Falca, who was recently cleared in a criminal investigation, is the current president’s Godson and a vocal support of Basescu’s political projects. Falca’s candidacy came as a surprise for many since the mayor is a low profile politician and little known in the country, many putting his bid down to his desire to make his party branch more visible.

Though Basescu himself nominated former PM Emil Boc, now mayor of Cluj-Napoca, as a potential candidate, the latter refused to join the internal race. But Boc has anyway a bad public image since he was the head of the government implementing the toughest austerity measures in post-communist Romania and would have been an easy target for the other contenders in the final race.

Elena Udrea’s name was also floated as the first female candidate for the presidency.  But the former presidential advisor and then minister of Tourism declined the candidacy amid fears Romanians are not yet prepared to vote for a woman in the top position in the country. Still, Simona Cretu, an unknown politician in PDL, enlisted in the race, but her low profile is unlikely to push her to the fore of the internal competition.

The politician who has the most chances of standing out in the democrat-liberals’ internal race is Catalin Predoiu, former Justice minister in Boc’s government. He announced his candidacy on Friday, along Falca. Predoiu has the advantage of having been a technocrat minister in a government which the West saw as a reformist one, especially in the vital area of justice which is still under EU’s scrutiny.

Many have called for a single candidate of the rightist parties in Romania to challenge the current ruling coalition in Romania, better positioned in the polls. The Civic Force pins its hopes in Senator Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, former head of Romania’s foreign intelligence service (SIE) while Basescu-upheld Popular Movement is also considering its own candidate. Without a commonly agreed candidate representing all the rightist parties, it is unlikely they will make a strong performance in next year’s presidential polls.

On the other side, the social-liberal ruling coalition USL sticks for now to its already agreed candidate, Crin Antonescu, speaker of the Senate and leader of the junior liberal party. But with popularity in decline, the allied social-democrats led by PM Victor Ponta are starting to fret and voicing discontent at Antonescu’s bid. Ponta’s name has surfaced from time to time in this context, but a final decision is expected after the European Parliament elections next May which will show the electoral potential of the two parties.