Millions of Romanians are expected to vote in the first round of presidential elections on Sunday, November 22. A month-long electoral campaign preceded the poll, which takes place amid serious political and economic turmoil: the political parties of the leading candidates have been deadlocked over the formation of a new government, further reform and measures aimed at tackling the economic crisis. Only three candidates are given real chances to get into a second round of elections.
The poll takes place simultaneously with a referendum called by President Traian Basescu on a reform of the parliament structures in Romania.
12 candidates are running for presidency, with only two due to face each other in a second round of elections in early December. Of the 12, only four claimed the bulk of public attention during the campaign and only three are seen as main contenders.
The electoral campaign focused largely on attacks against incumbent President Traian Basescu, who runs for a renewed term in office, and on Basescu's all-means, offensive resistance against these attacks. While the referendum was a secondary issue for most of the overall campaign but a central piece of Basescu's strategy, the campaign was marked by collateral debates on issues such as the control of media groups or a secret visit by one candidate to Moscow earlier this year.
As little focus was paid to political platforms, many voters across Romania are expected to vote for the candidate each sees as "less worse" than others. Recent elections in Romania, including parliamentary elections a year ago and European Parliament elections in June this year, have been marked by voter apathy.
In the referendum, voters will be asked whether they agree with a one-chamber Parliament (Romania's Parliament is now formed of two chambers - the Senate and the House of Deputies) and with a reduction of the number of MPs.
Who are the 12 candidates?
- Crin Antonescu: Born 1959. Leader of the National Liberal Party. Supported within his party by influential businessman Dinu Patriciu. He served as Youth minister in the late nineties, then came in and out of public debate for long periods of time. He was one of the first candidates to announce his candidacy in the presidential elections - as early as March 2009.
- Traian Basescu: Born 1951. He won his first term as President of Romania in the 2004 presidential and general elections, after his ally, Theodor Stolojan, opted to withdraw his presidential candidacy. He had a first term marked by tensions between him and his party, the Democratic Liberals, on one hand, and the Liberal partners in the coalition government, on the other hand. He was also involved in major disputes with the Parliament and survived a referendum to have him dismissed in 2007. Before 2004, he served as Mayor of Bucharest.
- Mircea Geoana: Born 1958. Serving serves as President of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) since 2005. For the past years he has had to face opposition of influential leaders of his own party, but managed to group the PSD to support his presidential candidacy. He had served as Romania's Ambassador to Washington in the late nineties and then as Foreign minister in the early 2000's. He now serves as speaker of the Senate.
- Sorin Oprescu: Born 1951. A physician, he's been serving as Bucharest Mayor since June 2008, when he won the seat as an independent candidate. He previous served as manager of the Elias Hospital and the University Hospital in Bucharest. As a member of the PSD he had had two failed attempts for Bucharest Mayor elections in 1998 and 2000. He had repeatedly said he would leave the City Hall for the presidential race.
- Kelemen Hunor: Born 1967. An ethnic Hungarian, he runs as a candidate for the Hungarian Democrats (UDMR). He joined politics in 1997 as a state secretary at the Culture Ministry. He's been serving as deputy in the Romanian Parliament starting 2000. Since 2007, he serves as executive president of UDMR.
- Corneliu Vadim Tudor: Born 1949. Serves as leader of the far-right Greater Romania Party (PRM). A writer with nationalist and xenophobic views, he was elected in the European Parliament in the June 2009 elections, after failing to enter the Romanian Parliament - where he had been a Senator since 1992 - in general elections last year. In the 2000 presidential elections, he finished second in the first round, which prompted a massive vote for Social Democratic leader of the time, Ion Iliescu, who eventually won the poll.
- George Becali: Born 1958. A populist, nationalist politician and businessman, known for his ownership of the Steaua Bucharest football club and for real estate businesses. He's been leading a small political group - New Generation Party - for several years. In spring 2009, he was arrested under kidnapping charges, but eventually released. Following the incident, with an improved image due to the extensive and positive coverage of his case by local media groups, he joined Corneliu Vadim Tudor in running for seats in the EP. He, like Tudor, managed to enter the European Parliament.
- Ninel Potirca: Born 1967. A tinker, he serves as royal councillor at the court of Cioaba, King of Gypsies. Nicknamed Obama of Meteor (Meteor is a neighborhood in the city of Targu Jiu, where he lives), he serves as president of the Rroma Business People Employers' Union in Romania. He recently said that should he become president, he would erase all Romanians' debts to the state. He was investigated by anti-graft prosecutors in a fraud file years ago.
- Constantin Rotaru: Born 1955. Leader of the Socialist Alliance Party, a sliver of the former Romanian Communist Party, which he was a member of. As a candidate, he claims the only chance Romania has to overcome the economic crisis is a new nationalisation of private companies and national resources.
- Remus Cernea: Born 1974. His candidacy as a representative of the Green Party was approved by the Central Electoral Office. Studied philosophy. A defender of an eco-life, he has been appearing on TV for several years to debate against discrimination on religious or faith grounds. More recently, he drew attention with actions such as throwing tomatoes at real size images of his electoral rivals. He was said to have the most active presence among Romanian candidates on the web during the campaign.
- Eduard Manole: Born 1964. It is the second time he runs for presidency, following a failed attempt in 2000. He is a shareholder in two companies. Media has reported that in 2006 he was accused by a Liberal of hitting him following a car incident. One of his companies was involved in the privatisation of a chemical plant in Timisoara.
- Ovidiu Iane: Born 1970. Runs for the Ecologist Party of Romania. He is known as the man behind anonymous information on Romanian politics distributed online in the early 2000's. He states he is a shareholder in five companies and owns five apartments, a vacation house and three plots of land. He has a 2 million euro debt to a Romanian bank.