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February 3, 2023

Klaus Iohannis, ‘the Facebook President’

‘We won! We took back our country’ was the message Klaus Iohannis posted on Facebook shortly after it had become known that he was the winner of the runoff presidential election. It was a major surprise to Victor Ponta and his ‘red’ troops. Also a major surprise to Iohannis’ supporters. A major surprise to the thousands of Romanians who were protesting in the country and abroad demanding extended voting hours. A major surprise to Klaus Iohannis himself and to his staff. Even the foreign media who, with one hand eulogises the sudden shift of sidetrack in Romania and makes the cross sign with the other one, still astonished by this mysterious event, worthy of being studied in politology and sociology schools.

It’s been a week and people are still wondering how it was possible for Klaus Iohannis to win the election in spite of all opinion polls which were indicating Victor Ponta as a sure winner and with a difference of ten percent after the first round. How could a minority ethnic become the president of a nationalist country like Romania? How could a protestant get the votes of the orthodox? How could a ‘tongueless’ person like himself win in a country who loves to talk? How could a disciplined and punctual person win in a world of ‘Don’t worry, it will do’? How could a decent and self-restrained individual get the votes of a nation of ‘fishwives’?

The answer comes from the profile of the candidate Klaus Iohannis. While Victor Ponta was the favourite of the retired people and of those without higher education – the majority in rural areas in Southern Romania and Moldavia – Iohannis received the votes of the intellectuals and active urban people. And, very importantly, he received an overwhelming score from the Diaspora. And all those who gave their votes to Iohannis have one thing in common – they have a tool that made the difference for the first time in Romanian history, the power of which overturned all expectations – the internet. Iohannis’ voters, united by the terrible fear of the possibility that the red they had before their eyes every day during the election campaign might comprehend the country again and pull it back into communism, joined forces and, for the first time, online messages turned into street protests and the clicks turned into votes.

They fought a fierce battle with the shadows of communism, pushed by the will to break away with the past definitively, unmatched in a quarter of a century. An amazing and atypical effort for this people of calling the wind of change.

Today, in Romania, the share of internet users is escalating and approximately 7 M Romanians have an active Facebook account. Something truly amazing happened with 1.75 M Romanians after the first round of election. They, who had not gone to the polls in the first round, mostly intellectuals disgusted by politics, opened the eyes of reason, carefully weighed information and eventually, in the last minute, got up from their deadly sleep and shaped a different future. They left the keyboard, dropped the mouse and grabbed the voting stamps. The online worked ‘the German way’, the social media defeated Socialism and overturned the situation in the final of the power game.

And Victor Ponta powerlessly watched the whipping blow inflicted with a  new weapon. Like a tornado built up out of nowhere, the wind of change gustily crammed him and irremediably broke his wings before he could come back to his senses.

If it hadn’t been for the influence of the virtual milieu, if it hadn’t been for all those internauts and their virtual opinions, viral messages and awakening pictures, the political stage would have probably looked different today. For the first time in history, the online made the difference and a president was elected after a revolution that happened not in the street, but on Facebook.


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