Ten years ago it all started in the same way. Adrian Nastase, Prime-Minister in office, obtained 40.97% in the first round. Just like Victor Ponta now, also as Prime-Minister in office. His main opponent – the newly re-elected Mayor Traian Basescu at the time, stopped at 33.92%, just a little more than Klaus Iohannis, a more longeval mayor re-elected three times. As for the calculations in paper in view of the runoff, five years ago, Mircea Geoana shouldn’t have had any problem in getting ahead of his opponent if he had received the votes of his ally at the time, Crin Antonescu, and of the ‘independent’ Social Democrat Sorin Oprescu. But Traian Basescu won every time.
In addition, it has to be noted that the prime-minister in office is now only credited with one fifth of the total number of voters, which suggests a critical lack of civic enthusiasm.
Half of the population is numb to political changes and over a quarter of those who do have an opinion distrust the personality of the PM and, by that, are unhappy with the performance of the Government. But Victor Ponta hopes to be able to use a secret weapon: Calin Popescu Tariceanu. The Liberal leader is at the origins of the current Social-Democratic power, as, during his term as Prime-Minister, he started the ‘unnatural’ alliance with the party now led by Ponta. In the meantime, he has been propelled by him to the helm of the Senate and has established his own Liberal party. He even obtained a surprising electoral score given his last minute opportunism that turned him into a mere agent of the Left. In order to gain supporters, the prime-minister is even considering announcing him as his successor. It’s a skilful way to win over some of the so-called ‘right-wing’ electorate. But who are Tariceanu’s followers? Possibly all those people content with the ruling of the local Left, but with a more pronounced Liberal tendency. After all, business ran better for some during periods of Social-Democratic dominance. Especially that, whatever the explanation maybe, the big economic crimes have been dealt with more by justice in the last ten years than before. Which, to some, continues to be a threat discouraging a certain culture of doing business with the power. Tariceanu as Prime-Minister in a left-wing regime could sound tempting to some.
But even with Tariceanu’s votes, Victor Ponta cannot be sure about his victory. As for the Hungarians, in spite of all the present cooperation with the Government, they could be tempted to vote a German ethnic more than a Romanian who turned a traumatic moment for Hungarians – the 1918 Big Union – into his electoral slogan. In 2009, turnout surprisingly grew in the runoff election by almost 4%, which was determining for the denouement of a very tight race. A similar difference, although in a decreasing sense, was ten years ago, which was also determining back then. So such variations could make a significant difference also this time, at least theoretically.
What can constantly be seen in elections is the regional distribution of votes. The Carpathian line – like in the theories of the controversial US politologist Samuel Huntington – roughly divides two major political cultures. Also this time, the winner in Transylvania and Banat was not the Social-Democrat candidate, but Klaus Iohannis. His regional origin also counted, plus the cultural reputation of his ethnicity. Whilst Hungarians generally scare or at least generate suspicions of possible secessionist agendas, the few Germans still found in Romania are seen as a regional value. All the more so as they stand for a more Western civilisation. A different mentality in relation to work, a more methodical approach to economic strategies, a higher quality of production, a business environment based on the moral creditworthiness of the partners (in the sense analysed by Max Weber) – here are proverbial features, even if sometimes they can be unrealistically overrated. Many Transylvania and Banat inhabitants, for considerations of either cultural prestige – tradition of Central Europe in the decent of the Hapsburg world -, or religious – a much either share of protestants and neo-protestants – or because of autonomist trends (with fiscal ramifications), would prefer Klaus Iohannis as president. Just as they once preferred Emil Constantinescu (to the detriment of Ion Iliescu, the father of ‘original democracy’), and then Traian Basescu (the 2004 alternative to the hyper-politicised and hyper-clientelar regime implemented by Adrian Nastase). After all, how could they choose Victor Ponta, the head of a party always in corruption-related trouble, someone who prefers defending his party fellows against his former magistrate fellows?
What happened at the voting stations abroad is also meaningful. Having lost the previous presidential election because of the votes of the Diaspora, this time the Social-Democratic power chose the path of bureaucratic ineffectiveness which, de facto, prevented many Romanians from voting abroad. Victor Ponta knows they don’t like him because they dream about a slightly more European Romania than the one being forged by his party. The people of Transylvania think in the same way, and so do the students and young people in urban agglomerations.