A Post-Communist History of Romanian Presidential Elections and Who’s in the Race for Cotroceni this November (Demo)

By Marco Badea

During the last 30 years of Romania’s democratic transition, presidential elections almost entirely took over both the public space and the political arena. Currently, these are the only elections to take two ballots, and focus on the person, rather than the party. Better said, presidential elections are the most individual-centric, but also the most awaited and debated elections in Romania.

This November, Romanians will vote for president for the eighth time since the 1989 revolution. The very first post-communist presidential election took place on May 20th 1990, and was won, from the first ballot, by the National Salvation Front’s candidate, Ion Iliescu, who received 85.07% of the votes. This was the only post-communist election in Romania that had almost 15 million Romanians go out and cast their ballot – approximately 86.19% of all voters. On September 27, 1992, Romanians were called to vote again, this time in a two-ballot election, this time with a new constitution in place. The second round took place on October 11, 1992, with the main fight between the National Democratic Convention’s candidate, Emil Constantinescu and incumbent Ion Iliescu. Iliescu won, even though in the almost three years since the 1989 Revolution, Romania went through several economic and social challenges, including the 1990 “mineriada”. The “mineriada” was the suppression of anti-National Salvation Front sit-in protests in Bucharest by the physical intervention of groups of industrial workers as well as coal miners, brought to Bucharest by the government to counter the rising violence of the protesters. 

The first big post-communist moment of shock took place in November 1996, when the Romanian Democratic Convention (RDC) won the presidential elections, with candidate Emil Constantinescu, who beat Ion Iliescu in the second ballot, winning 54.41% of the votes

The fourth post-communist Romanian presidential election took place between November 10th and 26th, 2000, when Ion Iliescu won on the second ballot after running against anti-system, nationalistic candidate Corneliu Vadim Tudor. Tudor’s accession as a candidate in the final round mobilized even Iliescu’s former opponents, who considered Tudor an extremist. 

2004 was the year when Bucharest Mayor at the time, Traian Băsescu, ran for president as the candidate for the Justice and Truth Alliance, made up from the National Liberal Party and the Democratic Party. On December 12th, 2004, Băsescu won against incumbent Prime Minister Adrian Năstase. These were the first presidential elections to take place after the revision of the Constitution, which increased the duration of the presidential mandate from 4 to 5 years and prepared Romania to join the European Union. Traian Băsescu was also the first Romanian President to serve out two presidential terms, winning the 2009 elections against Mircea Geoană, the Social Democrat Party’s candidate, and a former Ambassador to the United States.  In 2014, the main candidates for President were former Sibiu Mayor, Klaus Iohannis, from the National Liberal Party, and Victor Ponta from the Social Democrat Party. Iohannis won, thanks in part, to the mobilization of the diaspora vote. 

2019 Presidential Elections

The presidential race officially started on October 12th, with 14 candidates running for President this time. The Central Electoral Bureau announced the order and wording the candidates will receive on the ballots. Klaus Iohannis – National Liberal Party; Theodor Paleologu – Popular Movement Party; Dan Barna – USR-PLUS Alliance; Kelemen Hunor – Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania; Viorica Dăncilă – Social Democratic Party; Cătălin Ivan – Alternative for National Dignity; Ninel Peia – Romanian People Party; Sebastian-Constantin Popescu – New Romania Party; John-Ion Banu – Romanian Nation Party; Mircea Diaconu – UN OM Alliance; Bogdan MarianStanoevici – Independent; Ramona-Ioana Bruynseels – Humanist Power Party ; Viorel Cataramă – Liberal Right; Alexandru Cumpănaşu – Independent. The incumbent, Klaus Iohannis, has a lot of people thinking he will be the winner of the election. 

So, in fact, the race is for Iohannis’ challenger on the second ballot. For the November 24th ballot, one of these four names might be fighting Iohannis for the highest position in Romanian politics: Viorica Dăncilă, Dan Barna, Mircea Diaconu and Toader Paleologu.

Viorica Dăncilă, the incumbent prime minister, was dismissed (together with her government) as a result of Parliament’s vote of no confidence on October 10th. This is the fourth time the country’s leadership has been ousted after a no confidence motion since 1989. 

Dăncilă is the Social Democratic Party’s candidate, but has fewer chances, as the days go by, to make it into the second round of the elections. 

Dan Barna, the USR-PLUS candidate, is Iohannis’ strongest challenger. Sociologists state that he is capable of capitalizing on the electorate’s emotions. 

Independent Mircea Diaconu benefited from the fall of the Dăncilă government the most. The Social Democratic electorate may vote for him, as he is endorsed by former social democrat party leader Victor Ponta. 

Toader Paleologu is the Popular Movement Party’s candidate. Discourse-wise, he is the best prepared of all the candidates, but his occasional conservative appearance prevents him from delivering a strong message to the electorate. 

Romania has been undergoing a serious political crisis with grave implications in the financial sector. It appears that the only political leader whose brand didn’t suffer too much in these tumultuous times is Klaus Iohannis. However, aside from his foreign policy contacts, the incumbent president disappointed a lot, hesitated even more, played the populism card and came too late at the mediation table when he needed to take a stand balancing state actors’ power. The Presidential campaign ends on November 8th, 2019. Romanians living abroad will be able to mail in their vote between November 8th and 10th, for the first ballot, and again between November 22nd and 24th, for the second round.  

I urge you, as you hold the power to vote, to think in perspective, medium to long term. Go vote and stay emotionally detached. Vote pragmatically, efficiently, in an informed way, and let your vote stem from your mind rather than your stomach or wallet. 

Marco Badea is a Dialectica.ro journalist and political marketing consultant/entrepreneur

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