Romania’s main presidential hopefuls start trading fire

Romania’s main presidential hopefuls start trading fire

By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest

 

Hardly had Klaus Iohannis been officially designated as candidate for the rightist Christian Liberal Alliance in November’s presidential elections when PM Victor Ponta started political attacks against the mayor who will most likely be his number one competitor in the race for the top job.

 

It wasn’t hard for the head of government to find an angle for a political attack – he swiftly accused Iohannis of siding with President Traian Basescu, Ponta’s arch-rival. More specific, Ponta accused Iohannis he had secretively met Basescu at the latter’s residence and pointed to a couple of photos showing the German ethnic mayor’s car passing through the gates of the presidential residence. „Maybe he got the wrong way, he drove there by mistake. You know, he wanted to go right, but went left. But I also know that green gate only opens if you are invited and SPP (the protection service) opens it. I do not understand why he hid the truth”Ponta said, referring to Iohannis. The prime-minister also hinted Iohannis had met the head of the American diplomatic mission to Bucharest whose residence is in the same neighborhood.

 

But Iohannis denied having had any meeting with Basescu and called the pictures allegedly showing his car driving through the gates of the presidential residence a sheer manipulation and false information spread by Antena 3, news station owned by Dan Voiculescu, media tycoon now in prison, supporting Ponta. Iohannis added he hadn’t met President Basescu since 2008, according to a press release he issued.

 

The mayor of Sibiu, a city in central Romania, said though he had attened an event hosted by the US Embassy in Bucharest last month, occasioned by the end of the diplomatic term of the former US charge d’áffaires, Duane Burcher. The meeting was also attended by several Western high ranking diplomats posted in Bucharest.

 

The US Embassy confirmed it had hosted, on 10 July, a meeting attended by Romanian and Western guests, but said it wouldn’t publish the lists of guests. If so, it means PM Victor Ponta wasn’t invited to the meeting which is a strong signal sent by the Americans to the acting prime-minister and, probably, one of support for Klaus Iohannis. The US diplomats were very active during the politically hot summer of 2012 when Ponta-led coalition, which included the party Iohannis is now leading, the liberals, tried to oust President Basescu in which the latter says it was a coup. Ponta then encroached upon constitutional and democratic principles which drew the ire of the West and harmed his political image.

 

This is the first direct attack launched by Ponta against Iohannis and signals the beginning of an electoral battle in which the two will be the main protagonists. Iohannis has already said he is prepared for below the belt blows during the campaign, following a false debate on whether Romanians will accept or not a president who is not part o the ethnic and religious majority.