Romanian President Traian Basescu, who is on the centre-right, and his Social Democrat Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, appear to loathe each other and probably do so, but they do deals from time to time. I don’t know whether they met to discuss their strategy in the presidential elections but they were de facto allies against the main centre-right candidate, Klaus Iohannis, who on Sunday unexpectedly won a comfortable victory.
The reason for this unholy alliance was that, although in Romanian presidential elections only two candidates go forward into the second and final round of voting, held a fortnight after the first round, it is very important which candidate comes third. Traian Basescu as President is not permitted to have any party affiliation but he was represented in the election by his great protégée and favourite Elena Udrea. Mr. Basescu’s idea was that Mrs. Udrea would come third and take most of the voters who like Mr. Basescu with her. They come to over 15% of the electorate. In the 2016 elections the PSD would control the presidency, the parliament and the government and Mr. Basescu, as he imagined it, could be the opposition. But this idea was ruined when, to his great annoyance, Monica Macovei stood as an independent candidate. She is the former Minister of Justice who deserves the credit for making Romania’s previously infamously corrupt courts relatively clean.
She has been a great admirer of President Basescu and would have made a very effective leader for Mr. Basescu’s constituency but Mr. Basescu is devoted to, even besotted with, Mrs. Udrea. In this way the Basescu vote was split.
Everyone agreed, by the way, that neither woman stood a chance of being president because Romanians will not be ready for a woman president for a long time to come.
Meanwhile the PSD had done a deal with the former National Liberal Prime Minister Catalin Tariceanu, who now leads a splinter party. He is the man who sacked Mrs. Macovei as soon as Romania had safely entered the EU in 2007. He was drafted in by the PSD to stand for president in order to take votes from Klaus Iohannis.
It was important for the PSD that Mr. Tariceanu came third so that President Ponta could appoint him Prime Minister as a gesture of inclusivity intended to garner support from people who voted for the main centre right parties that backed Klaus Iohannis. Mrs. MacoveI threatened to wreck this plan too.
On the morning of the first round exit polls – these are published throughout election day here - showed her gathering an unexpectedly high 8% of the vote, not nearly enough to get into the second round but easily enough to take the prestigious third place. This for an independent candidate with no party organization or powerful backers would have been a very great achievement and made her a big force to be reckoned with for the next few years.
In the afternoon and evening something remarkable happened. The exit polls showed her support dropping off and falling to somewhat over 4%.
This is remarkable because it is a given that left-wing voters vote early (the left is the rural party and in the countryside people wake early). Right-wing voters tend to lie in bed and vote later. Why did this not happen this time? Nobody knows, but the suspicion cannot be suppressed that the vote was tampered with to ensure Mr. Tariceanu took third place, as he did.
So far all went more or less to plan for the PSD though they had expected to win more votes in the first round. All was set for Victor Ponta to be President and to have a nominally liberal and centre right Prime Minister Catalin Tariceanu. This was the plan that was hatched a year ago but, as we know, it was not to be…
Most of Mr. Tariceanu’s voters ignored his advice to vote for Mr. Ponta and voted for Mr. Iohannis, who took the presidency by a comfortable margin of 10% of the votes. Mrs. Udrea told people to vote against Mr. Ponta but on Saturday it was reported that she was neutral. On Sunday she appeared unexpectedly in Paris of all places standing in the queue to vote at the embassy. The Hungarians voted for the German and so did a lot of previously undecided voters. Almost every one of the 400,000 members of the diaspora queuing outside consulates and embassies had several people in Romania they were close to and whom they may have urged to vote – for Klaus Iohannis. Some Romanians abroad told their parents that they would not send any more money home unless they voted for him.
Mr. Ponta lost badly, but not he only. His party lost badly, of course, even though it is still the government. A lot of people who fear investigation by the anti-corruption prosecutors (DNA) know that they may lose very badly indeed. Mrs. Udrea lost fairly badly and will soon have to manage without presidential protection. She has already been interviewed by the DNA. Mr. Basescu, I suggest, lost and so did Mr. Melescanu who gave up running the secret service to be Foreign Minister and resigned five days later because of his failure to arrange enough stamps to allow the diaspora to vote.
He said it was a resignation of honour but before Sunday's election he had said the law did not permit him to enable people to vote quickly. He will come back. He always does. He also stood for the presidency as a stalking horse to draw away centre-right votes but later the PSD decided Mr Tariceanu was a more useful feint.
Mrs. Macovei backed Klaus Iohannis and it will be interesting to see what the future has in store for her. She didn't lose, even if some of her votes were lost, and, of course, nor did the parties representing the 7% Hungarian minority, who voted for Mr. Iohannis. Whoever wins or loses, the Hungarians always win. A German president is the nearest thing to a Hungarian president that they can hope for, so they may feel that they won big.
Almost everyone I talk to thinks that Romania has won, including some who are connected to the PSD by ties of consanguinity or interest. Romanians, who have a collective father complex, tend to look for a providential figure to rescue them and the President-elect looks providential. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, people are hoping. Let's see.