Romania’s Iohannis presidential win-‘huge step forward’ : Expert
Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, Professer at the Hertie School of Governance says the election of a member of Romania’s minority is a ‘huge step forward.’ Duration: 01:03
Romania's Iohannis presidential win-'huge step forward' : Expert
Surprise presidential victory for Romania’s Iohannis
by Mihaela RODINA
ATTENTION – ADDS first results, detail ///
BUCHAREST, Nov 17, 2014 (AFP) – Romania’s Prime Minister Victor Ponta conceded defeat in a presidential runoff against his conservative opponent Klaus Iohannis, who secured a clear victory, early results released on Monday showed.
“I congratulated Mr Iohannis on his victory. The people are always right,” Ponta said after polls showed he would lose.
“We’ve won!” wrote Iohannis, the ethnic German centre-right mayor of the medieval Transylvanian city of Sibiu, on his Facebook page.
According to the first partial results announced by the electoral office early on Monday and based on voting at a third of polling stations, Iohannis secured an overwhelming victory with 55.8 percent of the vote against 44.2 percent for Mr Ponta.
Earlier exit polls had put the two candidates neck and neck. These exit polls however do not take into account the votes cast in the second-round runoff by Romanians abroad, seen as more likely to vote for Iohannis.
The upset came after a record number of voters went to the polls, with officials putting the turnout at more than 62 percent.
The official result is not expected to be announced until later on Monday morning.
The election is seen as pivotal for one of the poorest countries in Europe, which has struggled to combat an entrenched culture of corruption.
Ponta, 42, had hoped to become Romania’s youngest ever president and cement his Social Democrat party’s hold on power in the former communist state.
“I voted so that our parents can live in a better country and our children have a future here in Romania,” Ponta said earlier Sunday as he cast his vote, with his wife and two children in tow.
In the first round on November 2, Ponta took 40 percent of the vote against 30 percent for Iohannis.
But 46 percent of the ballots cast abroad were for Iohannis compared to just 16 percent for Ponta.
Experts had earlier said that a high turnout in the second round could well tilt the balance in Iohannis’s favour.
“The vote has been phenomenal. The turnout was huge,” Iohannis told supporters at his campaign headquarters after the seventh presidential election since the fall of dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu 25 years ago.
Iohannis, who as a member of Romania’s ethnic German minority faced accusations of not being a “real Romanian”, campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, vowing to turn Romania into a “normal” country.
Seen as a famously poor television performer who goes out of his way to avoid conflict, observers say he has appealed to voters with his reliability and honesty in a country sick of government corruption, with several senior figures in Ponta’s formerly communist Social Democrats accused of graft.
Rodica Avram, a 56-year-old teacher, said after casting her ballot in Bucharest that she had voted for change.
“For the past 25 years we have heard nothing but lies and promises that weren’t kept,” she said. “I hope we’ll finally have a president who respects people and does what he promises.”
Ponta’s main support base comes from the hugely influential Romanian Orthodox Church, as well as his party’s traditional electorate of the rural population, small business employees and the elderly.
He has been able to count on generally steady economic progress.
However, the economy fell into recession in the second quarter of 2014, although the government is forecasting 2.2 percent growth over the year.
– Diaspora vote seen as key –
Ahead of the vote experts said Romania’s diaspora, which numbers about three million, could play a key role in swinging the result.
Only 160,000 were able to cast their ballots in the first round due to an insufficient number of polling stations in countries including France, Germany and Britain.
On Sunday, long queues of people snaked outside polling stations in Paris, London and several other cities including the southern English town of Portsmouth, according to pictures shown on Romanian television.
In the evening, thousands were still waiting to vote in some European cities, sparking renewed anger at the way the vote has been organised.
At the Romanian embassy in Paris police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of would-be voters who said they had not been able to cast their ballot.
In Bucharest, several thousand people took to the streets in solidarity with expatriates they said were being “prevented from voting”.
Despite progress in reforming the justice system — which has even seen a former minister jailed for corruption — many were fearful of a backlash if Ponta became president.
On what was dubbed “Black Tuesday” in December last year, Ponta’s government passed a series of new laws granting immunity to elected officials.
The changes were ultimately blocked, but Ponta’s critics said the episode served as a wake-up call.