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February 7, 2023
POLITICS

Debate on the… debate

The two candidates left in the presidential race after the first round, Victor Ponta of the Alliance of the Social Democrats, the National Union for the Progress of Romania and the Conservatives (PSD-UNPR-PC) and Klaus Iohannis of the Christian Liberal Alliance (ACL) continued to exchange poignant lines, each on different occasions, on the subject of the televised electoral debates.
Victor Ponta: ‘That would be an opportunity for both of us to present our vision of Romania’
Ponta told yesterday in a press conference in Giurgiu that he confirmed he will attend all four televised debates suggested by his campaign. He said he will be there for the debates, even if his challenger Klaus Iohannis will not show up. ‘I have confirmed attendance of all the four televised debates, all at 20:00hrs and I will be there. If Mr. Iohannis is there as well, so much the better, because that would be an opportunity for both of us to present our vision of Romania on issues that regard the presidential office. After all, elections are not held for confrontations but for people to know who to vote for,’ said Ponta. He added that he will answer all questions on the shows. ‘After all, it is normal for me to attend all the shows and answer all the questions, because I will speak as the president of all of Romania’s voters, irrespective of their political option or favorite television channel, and I will do that in the four shows, which I say once again, have been confirmed,’ said Ponta.
On Monday he proposed his challenger to take part in four televised electoral debates in the coming week hosted by Romania TV, Realitatea TV, B1 TV and Antena 3. ‘I discussed with all four news televisions ahead of the first round of voting… so that we should discuss foreign policy, national security, the constitutional system and the justice system, the social and economic problems and institutional collaboration under the conditions set by the journalists from the relevant TV channels. I will be at all the four televisions on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday starting 8 p.m.’, Ponta explained on Tuesday. He added in remarks at Antena 3 news channel: ‘I set no conditions… I said let’s go, because there is a larger or smaller audience, more leftist or more rightist, a younger or less younger public, I have a duty to these people. I do not want to come to these talks to show that I am smarter or taller than Iohannis, I want to tell the people what I want to do as president. I hope Mr Iohannis comes to these debates out of respect for the journalists, because in the end, our message of politicians is generally communicated via the news media. It is a manner of showing respect for all the TV viewers’. Ponta argued the televised debates would be an occasion for the two candidates to unveil their projects to the citizens. ‘People generally know what I think with respect to the social and economy sector and they know what I’ve done, whom I will back for prime minister and who are the people I surround myself with, they know what I do in the foreign policy… When it comes to Mr Iohannis, nobody knows if he has an opinion or he merely doesn’t know. For me it is a very great chance and an obligation to answer the questions of all journalists, both those who are kind to me and those who are unkind to me, to answer all the people who are interested in politics and that is what I will do’, Ponta said.
Klaus Iohannis: ‘Mr. Ponta would like the debates in a format set by his own team ‘
In response, Iohannis had said on Tuesday that he sees Ponta’s terms as unacceptable. ‘Mr. Victor Ponta also keeps his usual arrogant stance when it comes to the organization of an electoral debate, so much necessary and expected by all Romanians interested in seeing the projects of the two remaining candidates in the race to the (presidential) Cotroceni Palace. Mr. Ponta would like the debates in a format set by his own team, with his preferred moderators and on his preferred themes. This is unacceptable in a consolidated democracy. One candidate cannot decide alone the details and terms of such an electoral debate. Topics are naturally established through negotiations by the teams of both candidates in the second round; they are not faxed by one candidate who has already set the order and content of the questions.’ He mentioned he refuses such debates. ‘I and my team cannot endorse such a non-democratic behaviour, therefore we cannot accept a counterfeit debate, which is not fair to all the parties involved. We refuse this new attempt at muzzling the media by imposing a format pre-set by PSD after Victor Ponta and the members of his government were about to approve the legislative proposal of PSD Senator Serban Niculae last week, introducing severe sanctions for journalists doing their job and honestly informing citizens,’ ACL’s candidate declared quoted by Agerpres.
Klaus Iohannis: ‘The only correct arrangement is having a debate organized on neutral ground’
Iohannis asked Ponta to authorize his campaign team negotiating with his Christian Liberal Alliance (ACL) staff to set as quickly as possible the conditions for having a real debate. ‘I am publicly calling candidate Victor Ponta to quickly give up such tricks and have the courage of assuming a fair confrontation of ideas, where none of us would start with an illegitimate advantage. (…) The only correct arrangement is having a debate organized on neutral ground, on topics decided by journalists, not by candidate Victor Ponta; a confrontation where all media and televisions in Romania should be allowed, including the public TV station,’ Iohannis concluded on Tuesday
Klaus Iohannis said that the West University in Timisoara would be the perfect location for the debate, 25 years after the 1989 Revolution. ‘I believe that in the upcoming days, we should make the arrangements for a public debate between me and Mr. Ponta. I welcomed the invitation of the West University in Timisoara and in my opinion it would be great that this planned meeting might be held in Timisoara, 25 years after the Romanian Revolution. It seems the perfect location for this debate,’ Iohannis said at the Parliament Palace, quoted by Agerpres.
When asked why he refuses to attend a televised electoral debate, Klaus Iohannis said that, in his opinion, the debate has to take place in a location the entire mass-media can have access to and where absolutely all conditions be such in order for no candidate to be suspected of ‘any illegitimate advantage’.
Victor Ponta: ”I ask Mr Iohannis to no longer look for far-fetched excuses’
Ponta’s answer came immediately. He stated his Liberal challenger Klaus Iohannis is giving ‘a vote of censure to the Romanian press’ by the options of electoral debates he proposes and he stressed he will attend all four debates organised by the news televisions, no matter if the Liberal chairman ‘has the courage to turn up or not’. ‘The options of electoral confrontations that Mr Iohannis communicates us either via intermediaries or directly represent a vote of censure given the Romanian press. Mr Iohannis does not want to go to the televisions headquarters and does not want to be moderated by journalists. The proposals he puts forward are noble – Timisoara University, the Palace of Parliament – but he might equally invoke the Romanian Academy, the Authors Union, a military unit, a village culture club, a hospital, an elderly home or a factory. Any place in Romania is legitimate for hosting a presidential debate’, Ponta wrote on this Facebook account. The prime minister communicated Iohannis that ‘for the very reason one cannot go everywhere, one can accept that the news media is that global institution that can bring the necessary meeting between the presidential candidates to the homes of every Romanian – from Timisoara, from Covasna, Bucharest and Suceava… Both university students, miners or retirees’. According to Ponta, the four news televisions the invitations of which he has already accepted cover a diverse audience and have journalists capable of moderating a presidential face-off ‘in a professional manner’. ‘I ask Mr Iohannis to no longer look for far-fetched excuses, to no longer make up unlikely scenarios, to no longer devise scholarly strategy of refuse, to no longer look for debates of (TV journalist Robert) Turcescu type as Traian Basescu did in 2009. Therefore, I ask him to participate in the four electoral meetings we have been invited to by the televisions starting Monday, November 10. I once again announce him I will be there starting 8 p.m., no matter if he has the courage to turn up or not’, Ponta wrote.

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