by Ana Fumurescu
Yesterday, amid palpable anticipation, Romania elected its new president. With an electoral enthusiasm not seen since the early 90s, Romanians both at home and abroad decided to side with hope rather than with certain corruption. The race came down to Klaus Iohannis, the ethnically German mayor of the Transylvanian city of Sibiu, and Victor Ponta, the current Romanian Prime Minister. Although Romanians are generally known for their apathy in the face of widespread political corruption, yesterday was proof that they had finally had enough. Electing Victor Ponta, a blatantly corrupt politician who plagiarized his doctoral dissertation, would have signaled more of the same for Romania. Luckily, Ponta made some crucial mistakes.
In a style typical of debauched politicians who think only in the short-term, Ponta and his Social Democratic Party (PSD) poured resources and cyber vigilance into efforts to ensure his election. Not only did representatives of the PSD drive voters to the polls, but they also tried to shut down anyone speaking out against their candidate. The crucial missteps, however, were the PSD’s attempts to ostracize voters of the Romanian diaspora abroad, as they were more likely to favor Iohannis. Although Romania’s current voting procedures requiring Romanians to cast their vote on paper at polling stations or embassies already meant logistical difficulties for Romanian voters abroad, these complications were augmented by early close-outs of voting stations. Many voters even waited in line for an entire day only to be turned away at the door. Suspecting the PSD had a hand in this, Romanians abroad became even more eager to cast their votes, sparking massive internet campaigns against Ponta and solidarity protests by Romanians in the nation’s largest cities.
This outrage proved decisive and led to the election of the first president in Romania’s post-communist history who is a member of an ethnic minority and a non-Orthodox Christian. Although Iohannis’ plans for Romania are not the most well-defined, one thing is certain—the extermination of corruption is his top priority. This might seem rather vague, but it at least offers a glimmer of hope that Romania will not continue to stew in the immorality of the evidently corrupt Ponta. Iohannis also wants to push Romania more in line with the European Union and NATO, and to dispel the heavy stigma that still rests upon the country’s shoulders. While it would of course be naïve to expect Iohannis to achieve all these grandiose propositions, it is refreshing to see that Romanians have finally heeded the call of their national anthem (“Awaken thee, Romanian, from that deathly sleep/ Into which you’ve been sunk by the barbarian tyrants”) and awoken from their civic apathy. With the centennial anniversary of Romanian unification just around the corner, it seems that Romanians have come full circle back to another German leader. Hopefully, this will be just what the country needs.