Weekly review: two for president

Weekly review: two for president


By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest

Romania is slowly going into the electoral mood in anticipation of presidential elections in November, with two candidates breaking the ranks and appearing as the main protagonists of a most likely run-off – PM Victor Ponta and Klaus Iohannis, the German ethnic mayor of Sibiu, a city in central Romania, backed by the main two rightist parties in the country.

Ponta will finally launch his candidacy on 29 July, exactly two years after President Traian Basescu’s impeachment referendum was held. Ponta was then one of the main artisans of the impeachment procedure which drew the ire of the SUA and the EU and which many say it was a coup designed to remove Basescu, an arch-rival of PM Ponta. Basescu was reinstated after the referendum failed to reach the constitutional turnout. Ponta’s then ally, liberal Crin Antonescu, is now in the opposite camp, supporting Iohannis in the race against the PM.

Iohannis, most likely the final candidate of the new alliance formed by the liberals (PNL) and the democrat-liberals (PDL), is the mayor of Sibiu, a former European cultural capital. The alliance’s candidate for this fall’s presidential elections will be announced on 5 August following a series of internal polls which shall differentiate between the two main contenders – Klaus Iohannis, the liberal leader, and Catalin Predoiu, the democrat-liberals’ candidate. A meeting is also scheduled for today for the two parties to pass the new party rules and sign the political protocol.

A German ethnic, Iohannis passes as a trustworthy politician among the Romanian voters and a recent poll shows, for the first time, that he is likely to win the presidential elections. According to this poll done by the Social Research Bureau, Iohannis will be voted by 50.4 % of the Romanians, while Ponta will secure 49.6 per cent of the votes in the second round of presidential elections. Even if the difference is insignificant, analysts say the trend is likely to develop as Ponta’s popularity continues to erode. A recent dispute with President Basescu on economic issues put Ponta in an embarrassing position, not being able, along his Finance minister, to present solid arguments in favor of cutting back social contributions which Basescu says the government doesn’t have alternative financial sources to compensate the budget gap.

In a press conference this week, Basescu confirmed that the Government’s revenue collection is short of 543 million Euros over the six months of the year, making a case against PM Victor Ponta’s decision to cut back social insurance contribution (CAS) which Basescu warns it will harm the economy. The President also said he had returned a draft law on the CAS cut back to the Parliament because he wasn’t convinced the government had found sources of financing to cover the assessed 1 billion Euros gap the measure would create in the state budget.

The same poll shows Romanians think Iohannis’ main quality is being a serious and respectable politician and a good organizer. In a sign he may be the final candidate of the alliance, Iohannis this week made his first comments concerning the situation in Ukraine. He called on the EU to set red lines in connection to Russia beyond which Brussels shouldn’t accept any compromise while highlighting the shoot down of the Malaysian airplane “indicate a problem of behavior on the part of Russia”.

Speaking to daily Adevarul, Ponta gave a tricky answer to the question whether he would attack Iohannis for being a German ethnic and a neo-protestant, but hinting he may do so. “It’s nothing bad about Mr Iohannis being a German ethnic, but no one can accuse me of being a Romanian ethnic. We live in Romania after all and I am proud to be Romanian. The same about religion. It’s nothing bad about Mr Iohannis being a neo-protestant, but no one can reproach me with being an Orthodox” Ponta replied. He admitted he was more afraid to run against his former political ally Crin Antonescu than against Iohannis.