The Presidential elections in Romania marked the end of the Basescu era. During his ten year mandate, he oversaw Romania's integration into NATO and ascension to the EU as well as Romania's most significant level of economic growth since 1989. He also presided over the ongoing theft of national and natural resources, supported corrupt colleagues and businesses, and was the star of numerous scandals including two referendums aimed at his removal.
During Basescu's mandate, I'd wager that Romanian morale reached an all-time low. The '90s, wild as they were, carried a certain optimism. Over time, however, the incompetence of Romanian leaders and their flagrant disrespect for this country's citizens, demonstrated by their inability to provide anything of value, any vision, or even a single cross-country highway, resulted in a demoralized and politically apathetic social class very far removed from the democratic processes that make other countries appear utopian by comparison. Nonetheless, he's proven to be a wily politician and I've a feeling that history will be kind to him.
These elections announced the end of an era and the beginning of another. For Romanians it was a choice between Ponta's Romania of amnesty for politicians convicted of corruption or that of Iohannis who endorsed honest and hard-working Transylvanian-Saxon ethics as the head of an alliance that includes Basescu's Liberal Democratic party. At least with Ponta, there was no reason to worry about yet another facade, it was pretty clear what he was up to. Ponta, who, upon visiting China, lauded the "Great Communist Party and all of its accomplishments" made it easy for his PSD cronies to be labelled 'communist remnants'. It would be difficult to argue that they are not. Their ideological and spiritual leader is none other than Ion Illiescu, the man who took over after 1989 and under whose 'leadership' Romania's political class was schooled in graft, incompetence, and petty squabbles.
I don't want to get into the politics much more than this, suffice to say that, at the beginning of the year, 90% of Romanians would've told you that Ponta would be their future president. What's incredible is that, even then, very few relished the prospect. His tenure as prime minister cemented his reputation as a liar and a cheat. However, given the PSD grip on the voting masses (pensioners, public servants, those living on social assistance), there was little doubt that the outcome might be any different.
Everybody knew that in order to defeat Ponta Romanians needed a good alternative candidate. Moreover, there was a tacit understanding that *if* anything were to change, the apathetic and traditionally uninterested part of the electorate would have to participate en masse.
When I first moved here and I started meeting new people and talking to them, there was something that just didn't click. I couldn't understand why a country with such smart people (most of those I was meeting and speaking with) still put up with the mess the politicians were making. How did these bandits get into power, why were they voted in time and again? It was mind-boggling. And that's when I found out that the "smart Romanian's" solution was to just ignore the problem. "Oh, I don't get mixed up in all that, it's just dirt." "I'll do my thing, they'll do their thing, you can't win with those people." And on and on with this defeatist and fatalistic view of the political situation here. That was when I struggled to write the longest thing I'd ever written in Romanian -up to that point (Here it is if you're interested in running it through freetranslation.com).
The gist of it is that the politicians aren't the problem as much as an uninterested and passive electorate is the problem. The people in parliament are there because they were voted in by other people – it doesn't matter if those who vote are illiterate, or that they only care about getting their pensions, or because they got a sack of flour and a bottle of vegetable oil right before the election. They voted, period. Moreover, democracy is a two-way process that takes place in between, not just during, elections; another concept completely alien to 99% of Romanians.
This past election wasn’t about Klaus Iohannis’s victory. That’s almost irrelevant. He’s yet to prove himself on the national stage and he’s still the leader of a political party with plenty of baggage. This was bigger. This was the first time, since 1989, that millions of Romanians actually witnessed democracy in action. This is huge. It’s reflected in the words of a friend at work, who voted for the first time, “After these elections I realized I need to be more politically informed,” he said. Others echoed this sentiment, and it’s not surprising to see why; the previously uninvolved voters were able to see firsthand that tangible changes are possible, even in Romania. So, it's the average Romanian who won the elections, and it's time for all the incompetent Romanian politicians to start worrying about their jobs.