In a surprise development, Romanian voters elected a reformist, loudly pro-Western center-right candidate, Klaus Iohannis, as President in a second-round vote, passing over the current Social Democrat Prime Minister, Victor Ponta. The Financial Times:
Mr Iohannis, a 55-year-old physics teacher, has been mayor of the tourist city of Sibiu in Transylvania since 2000. An ethnic German and member of a Lutheran evangelical church, Mr Iohannis is an unusual politician in the largely Romanian orthodox country of 20m.Much of the campaign focused on how to increase living standards in the EU’s second-poorest country, which is due to complete a €4bn IMF loan programme in January. The government had frozen talks with the fund on a possible renewal of the programme until after the election campaign, during which Mr Ponta promised to raise incomes and cut taxes.The candidates also committed themselves to combating corruption and reinforcing Romania’s pro-EU orientation in televised debates, amid concerns about increasing Russian influence in the region. Both contenders moved to distance themselves from what they described as worrying trends in neighbouring Hungary, where Viktor Orban, prime minister, has drawn criticism for his illiberal reforms.“My orientation is west,” said Mr Iohannis, adding: “What is happening in Hungary now, that is not democracy going in the right direction.”
In Ukraine and now Romania, voters in Eastern Europe are choosing leaders on the basis of their desire to move their countries closer to the West. Is anybody in the West paying attention?