2 – Romania. German President – Bad President
BSSB.BE neweastplatform.org/ 14.04.2016
Earlier this month, the German newspaper Der Spiegel published an article describing Romanian President Klaus Iohannis as a “dilettante”. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “dilettante” as “a person whose interest in an art or an area of knowledge is not very deep or serious”. Synonyms include “amateur”, “dabbler” and “aficionado”.The point the German newspaper was trying to make was that the Romanian President is out of touch with the demands and rigors of his executive position, and that he is being a letdown for all the people who put hope in him.
The parliamentary and public boundaries of the Romanian President
- In Romania, legislative elections are held every 4 years, and Presidential elections come once every 5 years. This increases the chances of an ideological divide between the President and his Prime Minister.
- For many years, the presidency and prime minister’s cabinet have been in gridlock, Iohannis is no different.
- Even though currently he has the technocratic government of Dacian Ciolos on his side, the President will not be able to make full implementation of his desires without a parliamentary majority.
This is perhaps the crux of the issue concerning Iohannis, it might be interpreted as one of the reasons the President often simply has to spectate the political process instead of being more engaged. Being President with no parliamentary majority, limited executive power and a political system that forces you to cooperate with branches of government you have little control over leaves little to the imagination. Iohannis was elected in 2014 as a candidate of the National Liberal Party (PNL). His party lacks control in both chambers of Parliament.
Figure 1. The shape of Romania’s Senate
The most recent count of Senators from the Senate website shows the Social Democrats with a slight edge in the Senate and a more considerable lead in the Chamber of Deputies.
Figure 2. The shape of Romania’s Chamber of Deputies
If the current Parliament is of no use, the President can hope the next one will be. Recent polling has been sparse, however, the past 5 polls who have looked at political preferences between June – December 2015 show the National Liberals leading by a slim margin. Should the PNL prevail in this year’s elections, the spotlight will turn on Iohannis again, as the President will probably be bound to take a more leading role should he have a parliamentary majority.
Opinion polls on his popularity have shown him at 78% favorability in December 2014, during what western pundits would describe as his “honeymoon” period. As of August 2015, the President found himself at 59% approval rating, a considerable decrease showing the honeymoon is over, but still a rather solid level of approval.
As of December 2015, one year after the first month of his presidency, Iohannis’ approval ratings still hold solid: INSCOP surveys found that he was sitting firmly at 59.8% much / very much confidence from Romanians (an increase from September 2015’s 58.6). He is followed by National Bank of Romania Governor Mugur Isarescu with 40.4% and current Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos, with 32.6% approval.
To sum up, President Iohannis is in a strange grey area concerning his image and the effect of his actions. He lacks the parliamentary majority to support his platform.
- His executive attributes are strongly limited and mostly tie him to Prime Ministers that either opposed him ideologically, or are technocrats. He never really had a Prime Minister from his own ideological spectrum.
- This has pushed him in a political status similar to that of a lame duck. Aside from the occasional EU summit and award giving (or award taking) ceremony, the President has had to endure many moments when he was accused of being overly quiet, overly passive and disinterested.
- However, his difficult political situation, and the occasional bizarre rookie mistake (taking the Star of Romania from Tokes) have done very little to actually hurt him in Romanian approval ratings.
High expectations for Iohannis and the tacit response that followed
- Der Spiegel’s frustration is understandable, it is a sentiment shared by many, both in the west and in Romania.
- The Economistcalled his election a “Transylvanian surprise”, citing high turnout and offering his support to Romanians abroad who wanted to vote for him and couldn’t due to various methods to stifle the vote employed by the past government
- Dilettante or not, Iohannis knew enough to capitalize on the unwise method of suppressing the vote abroad, which earned him in exchange considerable support. After losing the First Round in the election, Iohannis appropriated the pro-diaspora message, which turned him into the main beneficiary of the anti-corruption vote.
- A second Economistarticle from 2014 seems to have enough vision to anticipate what was to come: then-defeated Prime Minister Ponta claimed he saw no reason to resign given his parliamentary majority (thus setting up a clear ideological difference between the branches of government).
- The New York Times did not even expect Iohannis to win, seeing, like many others, Mr. Ponta as the favorite, and shaping the election as a battle for trust
- To The Guardian, Iohannis was supposed to ride on a wave of anticorruption
- The BBC described Iohannis as someone who emerged from “relative obscurity”, an “outsider” due to his German ethnicity and limited experience as mayor of Sibiu, someone for whom the task of governing was merely beginning
It would be fair to say, in conclusion, that many in western media did not see Iohannis as a solid contender and did not know too much about him. There is only one linear message associated with him from the time: he needs to fight corruption. Needless to say, the President cannot really use too many of his abilities to “fight corruption”. Iohannis himself has also shown that, like all politicians, he is far from being immaculate, as accusations of political incompatibility and various acts of corruption while he was mayor of Sibiu also came to surface in the months following his election.
.Iohannis’ first year and a half in power has had many frustrating moments. However, perhaps after the elections scheduled this spring, the real test will come: will he stay passive and distant, confirming the doubts of many and proving that he is indeed overwhelmed by his position? Or will he take charge and try to shape policy, in the direction he claimed to do so?
Will he address the internal corruption and conflicts of his own party, or will he ignore them for the sake of parliamentary assent? Unfortunately, for President Iohannis, it is still too early to give a verdict, and, just like those first few days after the November election, there is still a long road to convince critics and western pundits that he is out of obscurity.
Mircea Alin Barbantan
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