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.