The unexpected victory of the opposition candidate Klaus Johannis in Romania’s presidential election yesterday is an important development — not just for Romania, but for the European Union as a whole. Migration within the union, which has led to the rise of anti-EU political groups in some wealthier nations, including the U.K., is paying off: It is helping nations on the periphery such as Romania adopt the best practices of the older, core democracies. In the first round of the vote, Prime Minister Victor Ponta beat Johannis, the center-right mayor of the Transylvanian town of Sibiu. Johannis, an ethic German, didn’t appear likely to prevail in the run-off. He is Lutheran, and not Orthodox Christian like most Romanians, and he ran a rather boring campaign. The election, however, was marred by complaints from Romanians abroad who had trouble casting their ballots. There were long lines at polling stations in Italy and Spain, where Romanians are the biggest immigrant group, as well as in France and the U.K., which also have large Romanian populations.
The incidents angered Romanians abroad and at home. Protests erupted across Romania as people demanded that the emigres be allowed to exercise their right to vote. Ponta’s Socialist government was suspected of having arranged the hurdles to voting because the diaspora had backed center-right parties in the past. According to a 2011 paper by Toma Burean at Babes-Bolyai University, the current president, Traian Basescu, a center-right politician who has been tough on corruption, “systematically gathered a higher share of diaspora support in countries that are more democratic, enjoy more economic freedom, and are less corrupt.”
About 3 million voting-age Romanians live abroad, representing a significant share of the country’s 18 million eligible voters. In the second round of the 2014 election, the number of emigres who cast their ballots more than doubled compared with the first round, to 378,811, about half of them in Italy and Spain. Thank to the protests, the turnout also increased within Romania. This gave Johannis, who is more likely to continue Basescu’s anti-corruption line than Ponta would have been, a surprise landslide victory.