Friday, October 03, 2014

Romania's Presidential Elections (2014 edition)

While the number of people in Romania continues to drop like a stone, the number of people who want to be the President of those who are left seems to be rising just as fast.  At some point at this rate there will be as many Presidential candidates as there are people.

This autumn's election features no fewer than 14 candidates. Including some people who clearly just want to do battle over the odd 0.1 of a percentage point with each other.  We have, for example, two candidates who purport to represent the Hungarian minority.  In some ways there is a logic to that, because since the UDMR's candidate is not ever (ever) going to get into the second round, "splitting the vote" of the Hungarians doesn't really matter and it gives the other party a chance to challenge without being accused of treachery to the Hungarian cause.  We also have two extreme right wing candidates who used to be the leading lights of the same xenophobic party, the PRM. But clearly they've fallen out (possibly over whether the Hungarians are more dangerous than the Jews or the other way round, or some such), and now Vadim Tudor and Funar are going head to head in a battle to the death, a chance at the end of the voting to wave their (no doubt minuscule) dicks at each other and proclaim themselves a bigger shitstain on the Romanian flag than the other.

But enough of the minor candidates who stand as much chance of making the second round as I do (even though I'm not standing).

On the 2nd of November voters will pick two candidates to run off against each other 2 weeks later (unless of course someone gets 50%+ in the first round and wins before that.  But that won't happen.) The favourite (in terms of the polls), and the one who is virtually guaranteed to make the second round is the current PM Victor Ponta.

Now Victor Ponta is, and I say this with absolute certainty, a complete dick. He is the ultimate party apparatchik, the protege of Adrian Nastase, a man so corrupt that he is actually doing time for it (almost unheard of in Romania) Nastase in turn is the protege of Ion Iliescu. The whole house of cards is as bent as a paperclip.  Ponta, you may remember, was also the man who cheated on his PhD thesis, plagiarising large chunks of it and then denying that he had, and when it was proved, he refused to resign anyway.  After all, why should one be excluded from high office just for being a proven liar and cheat? Ponta's hubris of late has even extended to him hosting a rally in his own honour on his own birthday in the national stadium. Something that his political grandfather Iliescu learned from being Ceausescu's right hand man I suspect. Craig at Bucharest Life has a good summary - with pictures - of the whole desperate event. I'm not sure how one can build the cult of personality around someone who apparently has none, but anyway.  It was deeply revolting.  (By the way, the media - particularly it seems the foreign media, present Ponta as the left wing candidate.  he is not.  Unless a socially illilberal populist xenophobe can be considered left wing. In UK terms he is as left wing as Nigel Farage)

Who might face Ponta in the run off?  Well the current money is on Klaus Iohannis, the mayor of Sibiu. Iohannis seems sort of not bad. He's clearly done a good job in Sibiu (though it's a big step up from running a smallish city to running a country), he's not a party apparatchik, being a physics teacher originally (and most pleasingly from my perspective, he's married to an English teacher).  I can't help feeling that there is a bit of a cultural cringe at play here though. "Well, clearly we're not to be trusted to run our own country so perhaps we can persuade this German bloke to do it for us". To me, however, he's a bit of an enigma. What kind of president would he be?  No-one knows.  Would he be better than Ponta? Hell yeah.  [Ponta, by the way, "left winger" that he supposedly is, has launched attacks on Iohannis based on his ethnicity and his religion]

The only other two candidates who get much of a mention in polling are Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu and Monica Macovei. The former is an ex Prime Minister and one of the few long standing national politicians in the country that I have any time for.  The latter is a former justice minister and the face of the anti-corruption efforts in Romania. She has been, I feel, excellent in that role, and has genuinely given anti-corruption investigators teeth, and has set out her stall to do something about it. She won't win unfortunately. (There's some old case involving both Mocovei and Tariceanu, which means that while they used to work together successfully they now seem to be in one of the many feuds that characterise Romanian politics).

All in all, the three possible people who might oppose Ponta in the run off represent about the only three national politicians in Romania that I actually partially trust. So, it could work out well. But Ponta leads the polls quite significantly and with the PSD's grass roots actions (which is to say they basically run many villages in Romania and will "get out the vote" in the way that they used to when they were the Communist Party), the stronger possibility is that Ponta will win.  But you know, we can always hope.