Romania embraces revolutionary dullness of its German Herr Normal

17th November 2014, Comments 0 comments

If you were to pick someone to pull off the biggest shock in recent Romanian political history, Klaus Iohannis would not have been top of the list.

Not only does the quiet-spoken former physics teacher come from the country's German minority -- long persecuted under the country's communist dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu -- but he is a famously poor television performer, who goes out of his way to avoid conflict.

Nor could he be accused of an excess of charisma, with his painfully slow speaking style often seen as a turn-off.

But maybe this is why Romanian voters -- fearful that their young and dashing Prime Minister Victor Ponta might one day turn into another strongman in the mould of neighbouring Hungary's Viktor Urban -- threw their support behind the Liberal Party leader in a nailbiting second round presidential runoff.

Early exit polls put Ponta and Iohannis neck-and-neck, but the prime minister was quick to concede defeat Sunday and congratulate his opponent.

Iohannis, a former physics teacher, campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, vowing to turn Romania into a "normal" country.

His appeal has been his reliability and honesty in a country sick of government corruption, with several senior figures in Ponta's former communist Social Democrats accused of graft.

One analyst, Cristian Tudor Popescu writing in the Gandul.

info daily, said the victory would help sceptical Romanians to "no longer be indifferent" about democracy.

- 'Not a real Romanian' -Yet he had to face up to some vicious attacks during the campaign, being accused of not only "not being a real Romanian", but of preferring to have property rather than children, and even being involved in the trafficking of children's organs.

Often referred to simply as "the German", he is also a Protestant in a country that is 90 percent Romanian Orthodox, with the Church coming down firmly on the side of his opponent.

The 55-year-old first made his mark as the mayor of the pretty Transylvanian city of Sibiu, which he helped make one of the country's main tourist destinations after taking office in 2000.

A good manager, he helped bring the medieval city up to Western standards.

This made his reputation as someone who gets "work well done", which also served as his slogan in the presidential campaign, promising to do the same for the country.

In contrast to Ponta -- who tried to widen immunity from prosecution for politicians and government officials -- he has taken a strong line on transparency, saying even the president should be held to account.

"It is intolerable that justice should be impeded by immunity procedures," he said between the two rounds of voting.

However, his squeaky clean image was questioned when the Agency for Integrity (ANI) group criticised him for being on the board of a local company while mayor of Sibiu, which the law forbids.

Leader of the Liberal Party (PNL) since June, he has never held government office.

Unlike his parents and tens of thousands of Romania's German communities -- who have roots in the country going back to the 12th century -- Iohannis chose to stay in Romania after the fall of Ceaucescu in 1989.

Germany offered citizenship to the country's various impoverished German-speaking minorities after the fall of the Berlin Wall.


© 2014 AFP

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