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Romanian presidential elections: from candidates to expectations

10 November 2019 In Romania, a presidential election will be held where citizens of the country will be able to elect the head of state for the next five years. Less than four months before the election date, there are already at least five candidates for the top position in the Romanian state. Each of them, representing both left and right forces, has its own electorate and its vision of the further development of the country. However, there are both leaders and outsiders in this race.

Candidate Schedule

The current President of Romania, Klaus Werner Johannis, is one of the first to intend to head the country again. His candidacy is backed by the National Liberal Party (NLPR), which received the majority of votes in Romania's European Parliament elections in 26 May 2019.

Klaus Werner Johannis was the mayor of Sibiu since 2000. During this period, he represented the German Democratic Forum in Romania. In 2009, Johannes was nominated as a candidate for the Prime Minister of Romania by the NLPR, when the country was severely hit by the global economic crisis. Johannis' candidacy was rejected by then-President Traian Basescu. However, this did not prevent him from becoming Romania's president after five years after winning the second round over Victor Ponta, the country's then prime minister. Today, the Romanian president has a good chance of being re-elected for a second term. He is very popular with Romanians, as he has repeatedly acted on the "side of the people" in many conflicts with the authorities. In particular, the issue of amending the legislation on corruption, as well as a number of other issues of concern to the public.

The next presidential candidate is USR + Plus (Dan Salvation Romania) and PLUS Party representative Dan Barna. He is the current Vice President of the Committee on Foreign Policy and a member of the Committee on European Affairs. Barna was a member of the Prime Minister Dacia Ciolos's government as Secretary of State, and at the USR Congress at 2017, Dan Barna was elected from the beginning as Vice President and later President of the USR. the third political force in the Romanian Parliament after the Social Democrats the Party of War (SDP) and the NLPR.

The USR + Plus Party, formed in 2019, sensationally came in second in the European Parliament elections, has considerable voter support. USR alliance leader PLUS Party, Dacia Ciolos, as well as his party members, are likely to support Dan Barne as their presidential candidate, as Ciolos himself is most likely to be busy with European politics. After the recent elections to the European Parliament, he became the head of the "Refresh Europe" faction.

From the right flank of the Romanian politicum, like Dan Barna, the leader of the Alliance of Democrats and Liberals for Europe (ALDE), Senate President (upper house of the Romanian Parliament), Celine Popescu-Terichanu, whose party is part of the ruling coalition, are seeking the role of president. Terichanu was Prime Minister of Romania, during the 2004-2009 years. However, it was from this period that Terichanu became a defendant in several criminal cases where he was accused of corruption. His case is in the National Anti-Corruption Administration. In 2014, Celine Popescu-Tariceanu left the NLPR and created the ALDE, with which he went to parliament in the 2016.

Romania's Prime Minister and Social Democratic Party (SDDP) leader, Viorica-Vasilic Dencile, has been nominated from the left flank. She announced that the party "pushed her to apply, and therefore out of respect for her colleagues she is ready to go to the polls." Viorica is the third Prime Minister of the SDR-ALDE Coalition of 2016. It was proposed by recent SDP leader Livio Dragny, who was arrested several months ago on corruption charges. Dencile of the same county as Livio Dragne is his longtime associate. There was an ambiguous opinion about her. Denchile has been linked to a number of diplomatic errors during international visits. For example, when she was in Montenegro, she said that she was in Pristina (the capital of Kosovo) and not in Podgorica as it was. In addition, at the beginning of her recent political career in parliament, Viorica tried to facilitate the process of amending Romanian legislation, in the context of amnesty and pardoning corrupt officials, and opposed criminal cases involving Livio Dragni. These attempts have provoked public outrage as well as the European Union, which has described the government's intentions as an attempt to rid corrupt politicians.

However, there is another difficult circumstance. The SDDP's decision to nominate its own candidate, Viorica-Vasilik Denchile, has caused controversy in the current SDDP-ALDE coalition. Kaelin Popescu-Terichanu said he was "upset and not holding office", making it clear that he was ready to leave the coalition because of the Socialists' stance on their presidential candidate.

Also on the left flank is the former Prime Minister, the former SDDP leader and the current leader of 2018, the young ProRomania party - Victor Ponta. He also has presidential ambitions. Ponta lost to 2014 in the second round of Klaus Johannis and does not want to stop there. In the recent Euro-elections, his party gained 6,44%. Despite such little electoral support, it allows him to have two of his MEPs in Brussels. A few weeks ago, Victor Ponta suggested that the Left delegate a single candidate for this election with the support of the SDDP, Pro Romania and ALDE. However, this did not work. His interest in the presidential election may be due to his unwillingness to support the SDDP candidate, especially current Prime Minister Vioric Dencile, as well as ALDE candidate Kelin Popescu-Tariceanu. But despite this position, it is far from being true that his presidential ambitions against this backdrop can be met as part of another presidential election race.

Political race

In the run-up to Romania's presidential election, a domestic political fight is raging. The elections to the European Parliament in the spring of 2019 showed that Romanian society is aiming for some reboot of power. For the country, their results are a barometer of thought that shows attitudes toward power. Yes, turnout exceeded 50% for the Euro-elections, which is a rather high historical figure. According to the results, the traditional political leader, the SDDP, lost more than half of the votes cast in 2016. At that time, the Social Democrats won 45% of the electorate, and in the European Parliament - about 22%. But the European Parliament elections were much higher than the Romanian Parliament three years ago. Such an assessment by the Social Democrats and their leader Livio Dragni has been a response to the Romanians' desire to partially curb their earlier achievements in the fight against corruption, reform of the justice sector, etc. In addition, the day after the European Parliament's election to the SDDP received another blow, Livio Dragni was sentenced to 3 years in prison for malpractice when he was president of the Teleorman County Council. As a result, the Social Democrats lost both their electorate and their leader.

In addition, the presidential candidate for the SDDP, Viorica Dencile, is somewhat isolated from reality because of his party's rhetoric. According to experts, it was fighting a "parallel state" when it was necessary to solve completely different problems (the term appeared in the public domain thanks to Livio Dragny, who said that special services fight politicians using KGB methods and that they controlled by Western and transnational corporations). The coalition of the SDDP and ALDE, while in power, did not prove effective enough. Three governments and more 70 ministers were replaced in three years. All this happened at the request of the already arrested Livio Dragni - a very rich man with enormous influence and financial resources.

At the same time, the positions of the NLRP, a party supporting Klaus Werner Johannis, have improved dramatically. This, as has been said, was aided by the position of the President of Romania on many important issues in society. The rating of USR + Plus and their leaders Dacia Ciolos and Dan Barney also rose.

However, in addition to the internal political component, one should not neglect the external factor. If we adopt the "theory of external support", today, the struggle for influence at a much higher level may ignite. So, in late August, Klaus Johannis goes to Washington to meet with US President Donald Trump. This is the second such meeting of heads of state, and it is clear that the President of Romania will seek to enlist the support of the Americans in the run-up to the election. In turn, the USR + Plus alliance with its potential presidential candidate Dan Barney has the opportunity to receive support from the French. Dacia Ciolos, Dan Barne's partner in the alliance, has been appointed chairman of the Renew Europe Parliamentary Group in the European Parliament (a group set up by French President Emmanuel Macron).

Meanwhile, the latest IMAS opinion polls in Romania show that if the presidential election were held next weekend, 41,7% would vote for Klaus Johannis. Second place with 13,8% would take ALDE leader Kelin Popescu-Terichanu, third - Pro Romania President Victor Ponta of 12,9%, fourth - PLUS Party leader Dacia Cioloş with 10,4%, fifth USR leader Dan Barna with 9,4%. Well, Vorica Dencile of the SDPR would have finished sixth with 7,5% of the vote.

Positions towards Moldova and Ukraine

With NATO's accession, Romania has become a major player for the US and EU in the region's security. After the deterioration of the situation in the region due to the annexation of the Russian Federation of Crimea in 2014 and the occupation of part of the Donbass, the role of Romania has increased. Especially in the context that Bucharest has become almost the only reliable US ally in the region, due to Istanbul's stance on Moscow and Sofia's "shaky" position.

However, Bucharest did not play a decisive role in the region, taking a tougher and more active position.

Yes, Romania is often criticized for its weak reaction to the political crisis in Chisinau following the election of Maya Sandu's government and the overthrow of oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, who held state institutions in his hands. There are two key issues to highlight here. First, the hesitation of Klaus Johannis, who was waiting for the reaction of Brussels and Washington, and only then spoke in favor of the Sandu government. Second, the attitude of the SDPR-ALDE government to Dempartia and Plahotniuk. It is no secret that the Romanian Social Democrats maintained very close relations with the Moldovan Democrats and their leader. And that certainly influenced their reaction to the events in Chisinau.

Bucharest has little or no response to current events in the Republic of Moldova and hardly anything will change after the presidential election.

The situation with Ukraine is restrained and pragmatic. Today, against the backdrop of a common threat - the Kremlin's aggressive policies, countries are and are likely to remain allies in the future. After a trial in The Hague in 2003, when the territorial dispute between the countries over Snake Island was resolved, there were no territorial differences between the two states.

However, at the level of some Romanian politicians there are still claims to Northern Bukovina and Southern Bessarabia - territories that belonged to the Kingdom of Romania before 1940. These topics are not normally raised, but when the election campaign begins, they appear in the media space. It is being discussed by small parties such as the "People's Movement" of former President Traian Basescu. (Interestingly, he had not spoken openly about any claims during the 10 years as president.) After completing his powers, Basescu declares that he wants to annex Bessarabia, that is, the present Republic of Moldova, to Romania. However, they do not have widespread support in the current political elite, as it is more important for the population to address their social problems.

However, more scandalous topics are more often linked to the state of the Romanian language in northern Bukovina and the mobilization of reservists for the Donbas war in the Ukrainian army. These circumstances are periodically used by Moscow to foment a confrontation between Kiev and Bucharest. The most active on this front are representatives of the Satellite Agency, who use the statements of some Romanian analysts and politicians.

But all these circumstances are unlikely to make any significant changes to Romania-Ukraine relations. Today, even after the presidential election, the parties will be more interested in dialogue and close cooperation than fomentation. Moreover, there is an understanding that the exacerbation of the situation between the countries only benefits the third party

Postscript

To sum up, it should be said that if the Romanian elections in November 10 do not lead to serious political crises, regardless of which of the current candidates heads the state, the political situation in the region will not change significantly. Romania will remain a member of NATO and the EU, and Bucharest's commitment to Brussels and Washington will remain unchanged.

However, the presidential election will be the first battle to lead Romania. The last battle will take place in the fall of 2020 when the parliamentary elections are held. It is after these, when the new government is formed, that we can talk about changes in the domestic sphere of the country.

Konstantin Uzdrish, journalist, political scientist

Chisinau