Klaus Iohannis, the ethnic German mayor of the town of Sibiu in central Romania, won the presidential run-off on November 16 with 54.5 per cent of the votes, against 45.5 per cent for prime minister Victor Ponta, Romania’s electoral authorities said with 99.1 per cent of the ballots counted.
Even before the first preliminary results were announced, Ponta conceded defeat late on November 16, saying that he had called Iohannis to offer congratulations.
Iohannis trailed by 10 points in the first round of the election on November 2, but more than doubled his result in the run-off, receiving 6.2 million votes versus 2.9 million two weeks earlier. Iohannis appears to have benefitted from a high turnout, which exceeded 64 per cent once ballots abroad had been tallied, and a strong protest vote against Ponta’s government, drawing most of the voters who opted for other centre-right candidates in the first round.
Voting abroad reached a new record with 379 000 ballots cast in 294 polling stations outside Romania, but thousands more were unable to vote because the polling stations were unable to deal with the inflow.
Long queues formed in several European cities, with Romanian expatriates waiting for hours to cast a ballot, even longer than in the first round of the presidential election. Reports said that local riot police had intervened in Torino and Paris to maintain order as irate expats protested outside polling stations after voting closed.
Speaking on the morning of November 17, Iohannis called on all political parties to “begin talks as soon as possible on the voting law and voting by post. I do not want what happened abroad to happen ever again.”
Iohannis thanked the expatriates who waited for hours to cast their ballots. “It is very gratifying that almost 400 000 Romanians voted in diaspora, but it is very worrying that thousands of Romanians were unable to vote. Those responsible should pay with their offices,” Iohannis said.
He also re-iterated his commitment to the continued fight against corruption, calling on parliament to meet this week and reject the proposed amnesty bill, which would end investigations against dozens of MPs and senior local officials – although all parties are affected, the largest number is in Ponta’s social-democrat party.
Speaking later in the day, Ponta re-iterated his earlier statement that he would not resign as prime minister, saying that the outcome of the 2012 parliamentary elections should be accepted just as his party accepted defeat in the presidential election.
Ponta said that his party heard the voters’ message and would vote against the amnesty bill when it is put to the lower house of parliament this week. On amendments to electoral law, he said that if the opposition parties agree, a parliamentary committee could be formed in early 2015 to discuss legislative changes that would make it easier for expatriates to cast their ballots.
The outcome of the election becomes final once the constitutional court confirms the results. Before that Iohannis has another obstacle to overcome, with the high court of cassation set to hear on November 18 an appeal by Romania’s integrity agency ANI – set up at the request of the European Commission to ascertain politicians’ conflicts of interest – which said last year 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 and Iohannis himself has said during the campaign he was confident he would win the second appeal. Should 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.
(Klaus Iohannis launches his presidential campaign in September. Photo: pnl.ro)