Thursday 12 December 2019

Ex-teacher triumphs in Romania vote

Klaus Iohannis said his victory signaled
Klaus Iohannis said his victory signaled "a deep change" in Romania (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru, Mediafax)
A couple kissing in Bucharest's Universitatii Square during celebrations of Klaus Iohannis's victory in the presidential run-off (AP)

A city mayor who has been elected president of Romania in a surprise poll win said his victory signals stronger relations with the West and greater stability for Eastern Europe.

Thousands of Romanians celebrated after Klaus Iohannis beat Victor Ponta in a runoff. The mayor of Sibiu said it would lead to "deep change" in Romania.

The triumph of the slow-talking former physics teacher represents a victory for a young, post-communist, well-travelled generation.

They typically get their news and views from social media, where Mr Iohannis was widely favoured, rather than from the mostly pro-government traditional media.

It also reflected the anger that people felt over the problems that Romanians living abroad had in voting in the first round.

The sight of thousands of Romanians, many forced to move away to find decent pay, lining up for hours to vote and being unable to do so, struck a deep chord.

Romanians voted in high numbers, with the turnout of 64% well above that in the first round.

Two hours after polls closed, an ashen-faced Mr Ponta conceded defeat. A mass protest transformed into a celebration as Mr Iohannis waded through thousands of people gathered in a square where many were shot dead during the 1989 anti-communist revolt.

"It should never be allowed again that Romanian citizens are humiliated when they want to vote," Mr Iohannis said.

He tapped into Romanians' desire for a quiet life and an end to bitter conflicts between outgoing president Traian Basescu and Mr Ponta, promising to be a "mediator president".

His win was also a failure for the nationalist card played by Mr Ponta, who mocked his rival's minority German ethnicity and the fact that he is a Lutheran and not a member of the powerful Orthodox Church.

Challenged to sing the national anthem at a news conference, Mr Iohannis gave a tenor rendering of the first verse on Friday, to applause.

Ethnic Germans who moved to Transylvania 800 years ago enjoy a good reputation in Romania and Romanians are generally not bothered by religious affiliation.

Mr Iohannis has been the successful mayor of Sibiu, a city of 155,000, since 2000.

In the interview, he said he would "definitely bring more assurances and stability to this region".

He promised to crack down on endemic corruption and guarantee an independent justice system. He said Parliament must not pass a law that would grant amnesties to people serving prison sentences for corruption.

"All this needs to be done as soon as possible," he said.

PA Media

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