Traian Basescu describes himself as a battler, a scrapper, and has picked many a fight with Romania’s political class. He has fostered an image of a politician with the common touch rather than one who would walk with kings.
The 58-year old former Communist party member says that while his rival Mircea Geoana promises calm, he is the man capable of bringing reform. Previously a merchant sailor, his political career started once Communism ended in Romania in 1989. He was transport minister, then member of parliament, then Mayor of Bucharest in 2000. Four years later he brought together liberals and democrats and on the back of an anti-Communist and anti-corruption campaign he took the presidency. His legal and economic reforms earned Romania membership to the European Union in 2007 and for a while he surfed a national wave of optimism. It was not to last. In the spring of 2007, the opposition tried to have him impeached on 19 counts of violating the constitution. Basescu was suspended and his future as president was put in the hands of the Romanian people. In a referendum on his impeachment, around three quarters of voters chose to support him. Basescu came out stronger while his opponents, despite their majority in parliament, lost face, but it did not mean things would get easier. A new crisis was just around the corner. In October this year, the Liberal-Social Democrat coalition government split and lost a vote of no confidence in parliament. The political instability would have swift economic effects as the International Monetary Fund suspended a 1.5 billion euro bailout destined to pay public sector workers. For over two months Romania has had to battle a severe recession armed only with an interim government. But despite the turmoil, Basescu lives to fight another day.