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Iohannis Reelected President On Pledge To Build 'Modern, European' Romania


Romanian President Klaus Iohannis (right) and Prime Minister Ludovic Orban greet supporters after announcing the results of the presidential election in Bucharest on November 24.

Romania's pro-Western President Klaus Iohannis has won a second term by a landslide, confirming the pro-European trajectory of the eastern EU member state with a pledge to turn the country into "a modern, European" country.

Final provisional results show Iohannis winning just over 66 percent of the vote against leftist ex-prime minister Viorica Dancila's 34 percent.

"I promise to be a president for all Romanians... A modern, European, normal Romania won today," a jubilant Iohannis told cheering crowds outside his campaign headquarters in Bucharest.

"I receive this victory with joy, thankfulness, modesty and with faith in Romania."

According to the Central Election Commission, the overall turnout on November 24 was around 50 percent of Romania's 18.2 million eligible voters. Almost 1 million Romanian expats cast their vote, a record turnout for the estimated 4-million-strong Romanian diaspora.

Voting for expats took place over three days, a measure introduced for the presidential poll after thousands of Romanians queued for hours outside polling stations abroad during elections for the European parliament in May.

Critics have said that the former government, led by Dancila's Social Democratic Party (PSD), had intentionally made the voting process more complicated for the Romanian diaspora that has traditionally backed center-right candidates.

Dancila was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament last month after years of leftist rule marked by rampant corruption and an all-out assault on the judiciary.

The eventual collapse of the PSD-led government was also hastened by waves of mass demonstrations against its attacks on the rule of law, the last of which was violently repressed by riot police in August last year.

Iohannis, 60, is a former physics teacher and mayor of the central Romanian city of Sibiu.

A member of Romania's dwindling ethnic German minority, he has been seen by many as the bulwark of resistance against the all-out assault that the PSD-led coalition waged on the independence of the judiciary from early in 2017 until last month, when Dancila's cabinet was finally toppled in a no-confidence vote in parliament.

Former Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila
Former Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila

After the results were announced, Dancila, dressed in black, said that she will not resign as expected from her position as PSD leader.

The 55-year-old former premier blamed the result --- the heaviest defeat for the PSD in a presidential election since the fall of communism three decades ago -- on what she called "a hate speech" by Iohannis.

"It seems that Romanians agreed with that kind of speech more," Dancila conceded, adding that the PSD will now start preparing for parliamentary and local elections next year.

The PSD describes itself as center-left but many consider it the direct heir to the communist nomenklatura.

Although its traditional voting base has been in poor rural areas where people depend on government handouts for survival, the PSD's loss of support among Romanians has drastically accelerated over the past couple of years .

Dancila managed to win more than half the vote in only five of Romania's 41 counties, compared to 20 counties won by the party's candidate in 2014.

Iohannis's candidacy was backed by the ruling center-right National Liberal Party (PNL) that he once headed and which now leads the newly installed minority government of Prime Minister Ludovic Orban.

Iohannis, who famously joined the first anti-PSD protest sporting a red parka in January 2017, has campaigned on a pledge to put an end to corruption -- Romania's endemic problem since the fall of communism three decades ago.

The wave of Romanian discontent alarmed officials in Brussels, where stalemates in Bucharest had already delayed some appointments to the new European Commission.

The third-placed candidate in the first round, center-right leader Dan Barna, had urged his supporters to back Iohannis this time around.

Romania with around 19 million citizens continues to suffer economically despite gains since the former Eastern Bloc state joined the European Union in 2007.

In a report last month, the European Commission slammed Bucharest for backsliding on judicial reforms and fighting corruption.

Florin Citu, who took over as finance minister after a new government was sworn in on November 4, has accused Dancila's government of running parallel budgets "Al Capone"-style to finance what he described as "local barons."

The presidential race, which takes place at a highly symbolical moment for Romanians who are preparing to mark 30 years since they toppled the most repressive communist regime in the Eastern bloc in a bloody revolt, is also considered an indicator of voters' preferences in next year's local and parliamentary elections.

Written by Eugen Tomiuc with reporting by RFE/RL's Romanian Service, hotnews.ro, digi24.ro, g4media.ro
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