Following the second round of Romania’s presidential elections, Klaus Iohannis, mayor of Sibiu a town in Transylvania, has defeated PM Victor Ponta, winning what has been coined as a surprise victory. Even though opinion polls were predicting a clear victory for Mr. Ponta, the centre-right Mr Iohannis managed to get 54.5% of the vote.
‘Dear Romanians, you were heroes today’, Iohannis declared after the defeated Ponta congratulated the new president. He went on to say that ’25 years after the Romanian revolution, people have come out of their houses to defend their right to vote’. The surprisingly large turnout of over 64%, was far higher than the one from the first round of the elections.
Iohannis owes a significant proportion of his victory to Romania’s large diaspora. The majority of the expat voters were unimpressed with Ponta, regarding him as a protector of corrupt politicians from his Social Democrat party, that is associated with the former Communist party.
Ponta supported a law, initiated by two of his party colleagues, which would have exempt offenders of minor crimes, such as corruption, from incarceration. Iohannis’s first success in office was to convince Parliament to reject this law on the basis that it would lead to a democratic regression in the state and undermine the rule of law. The Romanian civil society and press fervently supported his view. Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the US Department of State, also criticized this law, declaring that it would be an impediment in combating corruption.
In both rounds of elections, there were protests at polling stations across Europe, including London and Paris. As a result of the poor voting organization, people were queuing for more than 7 hours.
Despite governmental promises of improving procedures in the second round, some Romanian citizens still didn’t get the chance to vote, and were turned away from the polling stations. This has sparked outrage as these people were deprived of a fundamental democratic right that every citizen should have. The denunciations of Ponta’s government’s chaotic organization of the elections led to the resignation of the foreign minister.
The voting complications outside Romania managed to mobilize higher turnout at home. As a sign of solidarity for the Romanians overseas, protests occurred Sunday night after the end of the elections in the cities of Bucharest, Cluj and Sibiu.
Social media substantially influenced the victory Iohannis has secured. Facebook and Twitter played a crucial role in driving people to the voting stations in Romania due to election-related hashtags posts alongside images of large groups of voters abroad queuing for hours in the rain or clashing with the local police.
Iohannis’s presidential agenda includes an independent judicial system, and zero-tolerance to corruption. He also promised to build a strong Euro-Atlantic path for Romania and stressed the importance of the country’s strategic partnership with the US alongside its role in NATO and the EU.
Despite the result of the election, Mr. Ponta has declared that he has no reasons to step down as PM. However, he is already dealing with increasing pressure, both from his party and the opposition, to resign.
The Romanian people have great expectations from Klaus Iohannis, since they see in him a brighter future for their country. 25 years after the fall of the communism, the people have grown weary of malfunctioning public institutions, rampant corruption, theft and bribery. Mr. Iohannis will need to prove to his people that he will strive to mitigate issues that are deeply embedded in Romanian politics.