Romania votes to elect new president on November 2

Written by on October 30, 2014 in Europe - Comments Off on Romania votes to elect new president on November 2

Romanians will head to polling stations on November 2 to elect a new president, with incumbent Traian Basescu stepping down after serving the maximum two terms allowed by law.

The field to replace Basescu features 14 candidates, but only two are seen as realistic challengers – prime minister Victor Ponta, leader of the Social-Democrat party, and the mayor of Sibiu Klaus Iohannis, leader of the National-Liberal party.

Ponta is seen as the favourite, with various opinion polls giving him between 38 per cent and 43 per cent support, while Iohannis ranked second with support between 30 per cent and 33 per cent. All other candidates were polling in the single-digit range. In the likely scenario that no candidate wins the presidency in the first round of voting, a run-off would be held on November 16.

A win by Ponta would consolidate the Social-Democrats’ hold on government and bring a degree of stability after a decade marked by repeated conflicts between the presidency and parliament during Basescu’s two terms in office.

But some analysts fear that such a development could have a negative impact on judiciary independence and the fight against high-level corruption, as a number of senior Social-Democrats are under investigation on various charges (as are senior politicians in other parties as well). Romania, which joined the European Union in 2007, is still subject to EU monitoring in the judiciary.

One such high-placed official is senator Ilie Sarbu, Ponta’s father-in-law, who came under investigation earlier this month in a case involving land restitution deals, which prosecutors believe were carried out illegally. Ponta himself has been accused by Basescu earlier this month of being an undercover agent for Romanian foreign intelligence service SIE, a charge that Ponta denied.

Iohannis is running as the joint candidate of several centre-right parties, but his campaign has been plagued by a dark cloud too. Last year, Romania’s integrity agency ANI – set up at the request of the European Commission to ascertain politicians’ conflicts of interest – said that Iohannis was in a position of incompatibility for representing Sibiu city hall at the shareholder meetings of two companies.

An appeal court overturned ANI’s ruling, but the case has been forwarded to Romania’s high court of cassation, which is set to hear it on November 18. Should Iohannis win the election and the high court rule to uphold the original ruling by ANI, it is unclear whether this would invalidate Iohannis’ election, with the case likely being referred to the constitutional court.

Iohannis himself has said he was confident he would win the second appeal, while Ponta and Basescu have both predicted that he would be declared incompatible – the former said that it would not create a legal conundrum because Iohannis would lose the election anyway, while the incumbent president said that by failing to hear the case before the election day, the high court was coming dangerously close to influencing the outcome of elections.

Basescu cannot run for another term, but he is indirectly involved in the race too, making known his support for his long-standing ally Elena Udrea, who is running as the candidate of the recently-established Popular Movement party (the same party that Basescu said he would join after his term ends). The incumbent president has said that Udrea stood the best chance among several centre-right candidates to challenge Ponta, given the threat hanging over Iohannis.

A former tourism minister who is now an MP, Udrea has had her share of corruption accusations over the years and was recently questioned by prosecutors in an investigation into her former husband (whom she divorced last year) concerning a contract to supply computer licences to Romanian schools. She said in a recent interview that she had no knowledge of her former husband’s business ventures.

The third-placed candidate is seen as possibly influencing the outcome of the run-off, but Udrea is by no means a lock for the position, with two other candidates in close pursuit, according to opinion polls – Calin Popescu Tariceanu and Monica Macovei.

Tariceanu is the speaker of the upper house and a former prime minister, who now leads a splinter group of liberals unhappy with the party’s decision to break its alliance with the Social-Democrats last year. He is seen as endorsing Ponta in a potential run-off.

Macovei is an MEP who made her name as the justice minister (in Tariceanu’s cabinet between 2004 and 2007) who played a key role in implementing EU-mandated judicial reforms.

(Romania’s incumbent president Traian Basescu, right, with prime minister Victor Ponta, seen as the front-runner to succeed him, in May 2012. Photo: presidency.ro)

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