The Liberal party’s (PNL) Klaus Iohannis comfortably won the first round of Romania’s presidential election. Iohannis, the current president, won 38 per cent of the vote, a long way ahead of the former Social Democrat (PSD) prime minister, Viorica Dăncilă, who took 22 per cent.
The two will now compete in a run-off on November 24, which Mr Iohannis is expected to win by a wide margin.
For many people in Romania however, the election was a huge disappointment given the poor performance of the Save Romania Union (USR) candidate Dan Barna (pictured above), who trailed in third with just under 15 per cent.
Some had expected – or hoped – that Mr Barna would push Mrs Dăncilă into third place. He came up well short. In May’s elections for the European Parliament, the USR had come within a few thousand votes of the PSD. In this election, the USR’s candidate was more than 800,000 votes behind the PSD’s.
There are a number of reasons why Mr Barna failed so badly. Here are just five:
1. Iohannis is popular
Though far less combative than he at times should have been during his first term in office, Mr Iohannis is widely viewed as being a safe pair of hands who did a great deal to fend off the PSD’s attacks against the rule of law. I spoke to a number of voters who clearly said that they felt they ‘owed’ Mr Iohannis their vote precisely as a reward for these efforts.
2. Barna is not as radical as his party
Since being founded four years ago the USR has presented itself as a young, radical, insurgent party that wants to bring about genuinely ground-breaking reform in Romania. Mr Barna’s personal image is less than radical. Throughout the past year he has presented himself as being a safe pair of hands, very similar in style to Iohannis. Given the option between Iohannis and Iohannis II, voters went for the original.
3. The PSD is not dead
Many people (including myself) mistakenly believed that the PSD’s recent loss of power (a PSD-led government was defeated in a no-confidence vote in October) and general discontent with Mrs Dăncilă would demotivate the party, especially its efficient electoral machine that has an innate ability to get out its core vote. The ‘machine’ appears to have operated at close to full power.
4. Young people stayed at home
Turn out was low for the first round of a presidential election, and many potential USR/Barna voters – the young – did not vote. In Romania’s capital Bucharest, less than eight per cent of those who voted were aged under 24.
5. PNL rewarded for taking office
The USR supported the investiture of the new Romanian government, led by the PNL, but refused to become a formal coalition partner, and holds no cabinet posts. The PNL – and implicitly, Mr Iohannis – was rewarded by voters for removing the PSD from office. The USR’s passive stance was punished.