The first round of Presidential elections will take place on Sunday, November 22.
12 candidates are taking part in the race. The top four candidates in the opinion polls are considered to have chances (Traian Basescu – backed by the Democrat Liberals, Mircea Geoana – the Social-Democrat leader, Crin Antonescu – president of the National Liberal Party and Sorin Oprescu – independent candidate and the current Mayor of Bucharest). The latest opinion polls show that President Traian Basescu and Mircea Geoana will enter the run-offs. The same opinion polls show that Traian Basescu would be defeated in the run-offs by any of the other counter-candidates. That is why Sunday’s elections will in fact count for entering the run-offs and for the final fight with the current Head of State that seeks to win a second term.
With eight days to go before the first round each candidate had conducted the electoral campaign on his own, taking part in electoral tours throughout the country. A face to face meeting between Traian Basescu and Crin Antonescu took place only on November 14 in Cluj. A debate between the bottom-ranking candidates took place on TVR on Wednesday, November 18. A face-to-face debate between Traian Basescu, Mircea Geoana and Crin Antonescu is expected on Friday evening.
Traian Basescu – a player-
president for five years
Winner in 2004 after his duel with former Social-Democrat Premier Adrian Nastase, Traian Basescu is the only candidate that is almost certain of entering the run-offs. Nevertheless, he cannot be as certain of winning the run-offs, considering that Mircea Geoana, his main counter-candidate, has caught up with him and even surpassed him in some of the opinion polls publicized. Nicknamed ‘The Sailor’ because of his mainstay profession, or ‘Zeus’ because of his harsh style in his relations with the PD-L, the current Head of State has made a personal hallmark out of his blunt, undiplomatic style. Basescu created a significant part of his popularity during his term as Mayor of Bucharest, a term he won in 2000.
On April 16, 2007 Traian Basescu was the first Romanian President to be suspended by Parliament and on May 19 he was reconfirmed in office by a referendum. His term in office was marred by conflicts, especially with the former Liberal Premier Calin Popescu Tariceanu. His relations with the Government entered relatively calm waters only after the uninominal Parliamentary elections of 2008 and the formation of the PD-L – PSD Government. Throughout his five-year term Basescu has permanently been the subject of the most various rows.
First the General Prosecutor’s Office decided to close the investigation in the ‘Fleet’ file in which Basescu was accused of facilitating the illegal sale of several Romanian Navy ships during the period in which he was the Transport Minister. Then the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives absolved him of any compromising relation with the former political police, despite the suspicions having to do with the fact that the communist regime had appointed him as head of Navrom’s Anvers branch before 1989. Another favourable judicial decision came in the investigation on the allegedly illegal assignment of a protocol house.
Later on, the political ambitions of his daughter Elena (who has meanwhile become MEP) but also the controversies surrounding a house worth EUR 800,000 that his daughter Ioana bought in a neighborhood owned by the controversial businessman Puiu Popoviciu forced him to explain his private life. A row involving his brother Mircea Basescu followed, the latter being an associate in a company that included former military and intelligence service employees and that was allegedly involved in an arms deal. The row has not been clarified for the public opinion although Mircea Basescu withdrew from the company and the President denied any connections.
Many analysts see him as a character that relishes conflicts and that bases his popularity on conflicts alone. The accusations according to which he provoked the PSD Ministers’ exit from the Government and his refusal to accept the opposition’s proposal (an opposition that holds the majority of seats in Parliament after PSD left the Government) have created that perception. Basescu entered the race for a second term in a not very favorable context. His only partner is the Democrat-Liberal Government that was toppled by a censure motion and the Parliament is hostile to any of his nominations for the Prime Minister’s office but also to the referendum that he proposed in order to reduce the number of MPs from 471 to 300.
Mircea Geoana – a diplomat
for the top office
A career diplomat, Mircea Geoana is trying to win back the Romanian Presidency for PSD. Aged 51 and holding the PSD leadership for the last 4 years, Geoana is trying to impose himself as an alternative to the current Head of State.
Based on the latest opinion polls he presents himself as the favourite for the run-offs.
The Social-Democrat leader is known as a diplomat, former ambassador to Washington D.C. and former Foreign Affairs Minister during the Adrian Nastase Government. He managed to become PSD President only four years after joining the party. In 1990, back when he was only an engineer and a law student, Geoana made an inspired move by winning a position within the Foreign Affairs Ministry where he quickly worked his way up the ladder in a period when Adrian Nastase was Foreign Affairs Minister. In 1993 he became the Ministry’s spokesperson and in 1994 he was appointed director. In 1996 he was appointed ambassador to Washington D.C., at the time being the youngest Romanian diplomat to hold such a position. In 2000 Premier Adrian Nastase appointed him Foreign Affairs Minister. Geoana left his mark through his contribution to Romania’s NATO accession in 2004 but also as President of the OSCE. In 2001 Geoana officially joined PSD. In 2004 he was defeated by Basescu in the Bucharest City Hall elections. In that same year he registered a second defeat at the hands of Basescu after the Nastase-Geoana tandem was defeated by the Basescu-Tariceanu team.
In 2005, back when he was only a Senator and President of the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Commission, Geoana took advantage of the post-electoral turmoil within PSD and won, with the help of the group from Cluj, the party’s presidency, defeating Ion Iliescu who became the party’s honourary president. After the Parliamentary elections of 2008 Geoana answered positively to Basescu’s proposal to form a coalition government made up of PD-L and PSD. This year, shortly before the start of the electoral campaign the sacking of Internal Affairs Minister Dan Nica determined the PSD Ministers to leave the Government and gave Geoana the opportunity to position himself as President Basescu’s main opponent. The recent days have brought to the forefront a row involving Mircea Geoana. According to the press agencies, the latter paid a private visit to Moscow on April 27 where he held a secret meeting with one of President Dmitri Medvedev’s advisers, with the meeting being arranged by Boris Golovin, a businessman that has interests in the energy domain in Romania. His counter-candidates claim that the PSD leader lacked the needed ability to hold such a meeting despite being the Speaker of the Senate. Geoana confirmed on Wednesday he paid two visits to Moscow.
Crin Antonescu – a skilled historian, plays his last political chance
Crin Antonescu, president of the National Liberal Party, joined the presidential race from the position of outsider, with the third chance. He enjoys less visibility than Basescu or Geoana, and is at the head of a party with only 15-20 per cent of the options of the electorate, which does not help him much in the fight with his main opponents. Antonescu tried to compensate this handicap through actions like the censure motion which conducted to the fall of Boc Government, or proposing Klaus Johannis for the position of prime minister. Moreover, he adopted a modern speech, similar to the American ones, through which he tries to evidence his stainless political past. His only sore point is his acknowledged friendship with Dinu Patriciu, Liberal leader and rather controversial businessman who purchased Petromidia refinery, rescheduled the debts turned into bonds, and sold the company to Kazmunaigaz from Kazakhstan.
A graduate in history and philosophy, Crin Antonescu has the most modest wealth statement of the candidates to the presidential seat. Antonescu made his debut in politics in the ‘90s, in the group of the “radical” Liberals, alongside Dinu Patriciu, Horia Rusu, Calin Popescu Tariceanu, Viorel Catarama and Ludovic Orban. He got involved in the process of reunification of the Liberal parties and became vice president of PNL in 1995.
An MP starting in 1992, he always preferred the political positions to the executive ones, with one exception: that of minister of youth and sports in CDR-PD Government (1996-2000), when he was colleague in the Government with Traian Basescu, minister of transports at that time. As MP he distinguished himself chiefly through his oratorical talent rather than through concrete initiatives. His modest performance from 2004-2008 legislature can be explained also through the sudden death of his wife who was suffering from cancer. A widower, and father of a ten year girl, he remarried last October, discreetly, in Italy, MEP Adina Valean.
In spite of his divergences with Tariceanu, Antonescu backed him in the war with Basescu, but at the latest PNL congress he won the presidency of the party on the background of the discontent stirred within the party by the former president, Calin Popescu Tariceanu.
He was the first who announced his candidacy for the presidential elections on November 22, and imposed himself through a powerful anti-Basescu speech, especially after his party went into opposition after the legislative elections in 2008. Antonescu actually fights Mircea Geoana for the accession to the second round. If he enters the runoff, the opinion polls give him as winner in front of Traian Basescu.
Sorin Oprescu – a coach-
The independent Sorin Oprescu is an atypical candidate. Protégé of the former president Ion Iliescu, surnamed in the political circles “Professor” of “Doctor,” Oprescu is surgeon by profession. The success obtained in 2008 in the competition for Bucharest City Hall and the popularity attributed to him by the opinion polls probably determined him to join the competition for Cotroceni, after Basescu model, who became head of the state also from the position of Mayor of Bucharest.
At the beginning, his quality of personal doctor of Ion Iliescu helped him in his political career. PSD Senator between 2000 and 2008, Oprescu ran twice on behalf of PSD for Bucharest City Hall, but without success. First, he was defeated in 2000 by Viorel Lis, candidate of the Democratic Convention from Romania (CDR), and in 2004 by Traian Basescu. After he got in conflict with Adrian Nastase, Oprescu ran in 2005 for the office of executive president of the party, but lost in front of the former premier. In 2006, he was elected president of PSD Bucharest organization. At PSD congress from 2006, he ran for the presidency of the party, but he was defeated again, this time by Mircea Geoana, which determined him to withdraw from the position of president of PSD Bucharest.On April 21, 2008 Oprescu resigned from PSD, unhappy with the decision of the party to designate Cristian Diaconescu, instead of him, as candidate at the elections for Bucharest City Hall, He decided to run as an independent and managed to win, against Democrat-Liberal Vasile Blaga. In the electoral campaign he delivered an “anti-system” speech, or against the “corrupt system,” following in a way the model of Basescu, who won at the presidential elections from 2004 through a similar discourse.
He was director of the University Hospital from Bucharest and of Elias Hospital, but was accused of having left, after the 15 years at the head of the University Hospital, debts of billions of Lei and only half of the hospital building rehabilitated.In 2009, Oprescu tried to move away from the party which launched him, but also from Ion Iliescu to whom he actually owes his political career, only to create for himself a stainless image. However, in his electoral team there are persons close to both Iliescu and Nastase. During the electoral campaign he declared that he wanted to be a coach-president (not a player-president as Traian Basescu proclaimed himself) that would make the state institutions work.
Eight more candidates
The other eight candidates enrolled in the presidential race are: George Becali – New Generation Christian Democrat Party (PNGCD), Kelemen Hunor – Democrat Union of the Magyars from Romania (UDMR), Corneliu Vadim Tudor – Greater Romania Party (PRM), Ovidiu Iane – Romanian Ecological Party, Remus Cernea – Green Party, Constantin Rotaru – Socialist Alliance Party, Gheorghe Eduard Manole – independent, Constantin Ninel Potarca – independent.
BEC accredited five institutions for exit-polls
The Central Electoral Bureau accredited, for the exit-polls at the presidential elections, five opinion poll institutes and associations, which will question the voters when they leave the ballot sections. The five accredited companies are: IPP Data Research, Insomar Research and Political Marketing SRL, Institutul Roman pentru Evaluare si Strategie (Romanian Institute for Evaluation and Research – IRES) in association with Centrul pentru Studierea Opiniei si Pietei (Centre for Market and Opinions’ studies – CSOP), Compania de Cercetare Sociologica (the Copamy for Sociological Research) and Branding Forum SRL (CCSB) and Centrul de Sociologie Urbana si Regionala (Centre for Urban and Regional Sociology – CURS).