By Luiza Ilie
BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romanian President Klaus Iohannis is widely expected to win a first round of presidential elections on Sunday, with pledges to rekindle anti-graft efforts in one of Europe’s most corrupt nations.
To secure a second term, Iohannis, 60, will probably face a runoff vote on Nov. 24, with opinion polls showing him winning regardless of which of his rivals comes in second on Sunday.
With the backing of the liberal minority government of Prime Minister Ludovic Orban, an ally who won a parliamentary vote of confidence on Monday, Iohannis could install chief prosecutors serious about tackling endemic corruption, observers said.
His re-election could also bolster the Liberal Party’s chances of forming a coalition government after a parliamentary election due in 2020 and restore investor confidence eroded by several years of political instability and fiscal largesse.
“This should be news to no one, I very much want a fair justice and an efficient fight against corruption,” Iohannis told new Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu earlier this month.
Since winning office in 2014, the former mayor of the Transylvanian city of Sibiu has struggled to limit a judicial overhaul by the ruling Social Democrats (PSD), which Brussels and Washington said threatened the rule of law and which triggered the country’s largest protests in three decades.
The PSD were ousted from power in a no-confidence vote on Oct. 10. In power since winning a parliamentary election in late 2016, they had gone through three prime ministers.
Iohannis succeeded in pushing back PSD appointments to top posts, including the anti-corruption prosecuting agency DNA and anti-organised-crime unit DIICOT, both overseen by a prosecutor general. All three have earned praise from Brussels for exposing high-level graft, including the theft of European Union funds.
In 2018, the government had removed the head of DNA, Laura Codruta Kovesi, who has since been appointed the EU’s first chief prosecutor. The prosecutor general’s mandate expired in April and the DIICOT head resigned in October after criticism of his handling of a kidnapping-murder case.
The posts have been filled with interim appointees, allowing Orban’s justice minister to nominate replacements that observers say would be approved by Iohannis.
During its rule, the PSD raised the burden of proof in graft cases, reorganised judges panels and set up a special unit to investigate magistrates for potential abuses, widely seen as an instrument of political coercion.
Viorica Dancila, the PSD leader and former premier, and Dan Barna, the leader of the centre-right opposition Save Romania Union, are vying for a spot in the run-off. Both are under 20% in polls.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; editing by Justyna Pawlak and Larry King)