By Daniel Stroe – Bucarest
As the political fret sparked by Euro-elections faded out, the attention turned towards the frontrunners parties are now seeking for the presidential elections, a poll with stakes higher than ever before since it comes after a decade long office held by President Traian Basescu who had left a profound mark on Romania’s internal situation on all levels.
The highest stakes are for the ruling social-democrat party which hopes for a take it all game and win the first job in the country. With lower than expected results in the Euro-elections, the signs don’t bode well for PM Ponta’s party which only managed to raise around two million votes, when experience shows a candidate needs at least five million votes to make it from the first round. A second round may prove politically fatal for the social-democrat candidate, analysts said. Party’s strategists are now scrambling to figure out who the best candidate is, after Ponta shows signs of hesitation. Senator Mircea Geoana, Basescu’s rival in the 2009 elections, another name taken into consideration.
On the other hand, the liberals and their new allies, the democrat-liberals, seem to be heading straight to a joint candidate which is now given the first chance in November’s elections. Klaus Johannis, German ethnic mayor of Sibiu, is likely to be officially anointed candidate for the first job in the country at the liberals’ congress late this month. Johannis has already been endorsed by the local branch of the liberal party and is highly unlikely any other obstacle stands in his way towards the official nomination. If elected, Romania will become the only European country with a president belonging to an ethnic minority. In 1866, amid an internal political crisis, Romanian then parties chose to bring a politically neutral German monarch, Carol I, who ruled until 1914 and had a major role in modernizing Romania.
Speaking to IBNA, Romanian political analyst Silviu Sergiu sketched the portrait of the next head of state. “The future president’s objectives have to be consolidating the strategic partnership with USA, tightening relations within the EU and a more robust integration of the country in the communitarian structures, the anti-corruption fight, de-politicization of the public administration, an energetic strategy meant to ensure independence from Russia (shale gas, resources in the Black Sea etc), consolidation of the rule of law by strengthening democratic institutions, support for the Republic of Moldova in its European integration process, tighter relations with the neighboring countries, especially with Ukraine. In a nutshell, the next Romanian president has to sincerely play by democratic rules and stick to Romania’s long term interests” he pointed out.
As the presidential race is just at the beginning, with many political developments expected to occur until November, the civil society again turned its attention to a shameful practice in the Romanian Parliament, namely collective protection of MPs who are under criminal investigation and whose immunity lift has to go through a vote in the legislative. Five NGOs published an open letter, suggestively titled “Stop being the shield of the corrupted against justice!” in which they asked the lawmakers to cease hindering corruption files which envisage their colleagues. Six such lawmakers, from various political parties, wanted by the anti-corruption prosecutors have recently received the protecting vote of the Parliament and remain under immunity. The practice is a serious brake for the justice system and has repeatedly been criticized by the European Commission in its annual reports.
The week took a brighter and politically free turn when WWF Romania announced that, after 200 years, beavers have returned to the Danube Delta. The announcement coincide with plans to boost tourism in the second largest delta in Europe, after Volga’s, following the launch of the first air route linking Bucharest and two European cities – Bologna and Frankfurt – to Tulcea, a harbor lying next to the delta. WWF encouraged the local entrepreneurs to value the natural resources of the humid habitat and responsibly live off the unique environment.
With beavers populating this area again after two centuries, Romania is heading into another related issue, this time concerning its human population: for the first time since WWI, the country registered the lowest birth rate, in 2013, when less than 180,000 children were born. The steep decline comes amid economic hardships accompanied by austerity measures passed as of mid 2010 which also saw mothers’ indemnities seriously cut. Romania’s population is expected to decline, from 21.1 million, as the latest census in 2011 showed, to a little more than 17 million by 2060, statistics of the European Commission show, even though Romanians’ life expectancy is to grow.