The fourth elected president of Romania, Klaus Iohannis is an unusual feature in its political landscape. He is leader of the National Liberal Party in the former communist state, 25 years after the bloody end of the dictator Ceaucescu.
When that end came, he was 30. He could have left. He is a member of Romania’s ethnic German minority — Saxons who arrived in Transylvania in the Middle Ages. He chose to stay, a decision taken jointly with his wife. His parents and thousands of others of their minority left for Germany.
He built his reputation for management as mayor for three terms of the medieval city of Sibiu, population 150,000. It has become a successful destination for tourism, and was a European designated capital of culture in 2007.
Iohannis, now 55, used to teach physics. Priding himself on doing a good job, he is nonetheless under scrutiny for having simultaneously been president of the municipal water company while mayor, which was proscribed by law. A coming ruling on this might make him ineligible to be head of state. In 2009 he was a candidate to be prime minister, proposed by the opposition groups in parliament. But the president he is due to replace, Traian Basescu, named someone else.
Soft-spoken and even-tempered, Iohannis proposes a presidency free of scandals or upsets that might discourage investment in Romania: “We need a sort of politics with less noise and more involvement in the current problems, a sort of politics with less empty show and with many more solutions for Romania and for Romanians.”
The president-elect’s fluency in German and English is a considerable asset in his foreign policy role. Romania’s head of state is powerful in other ways as well, naming not only the prime minister but also judges and prosecutors, and is has a considerable consultative voice in setting government policy in the European Union’s second-poorest member.