BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — An ethnic German mayor who defeated the prime minister in a runoff to become Romania's president said Monday his victory signals stronger relations with the West and greater stability for Eastern Europe.
Thousands of Romanians celebrated the surprise victory of Klaus Iohannis over Victor Ponta, which the mayor of Sibiu said would lead to "deep change" in Romania.
The victory of the slow-talking physics teacher represents a victory for a young, post-communist, well-traveled generation who get their news and views from social media, where Iohannis was widely favored, and not from the mostly pro-government traditional media.
It also reflected the anger that people felt over the problems that Romanians living abroad had in voting in the first round. The sight of thousands of Romanians, many forced to move away to find decent pay, lining up for hours to vote and being unable to do so, struck a deep chord. The turnout of 64 percent for the runoff was well above that in the first round.
Two hours after polls closed, an ashen-faced Ponta conceded defeat. A mass protest transformed into a celebration as Iohannis waded through thousands gathered in a square where many were shot dead during the 1989 anti-communist revolt.
"It should never be allowed again that Romanian citizens are humiliated when they want to vote," Iohannis told The Associated Press on Monday.
German President Joachim Gauck congratulated Iohannis, assuring him of Germany's support for "the implementation of important reforms your country faces — especially" in tackling corruption.
Iohannis tapped into Romanians' desire for a quiet life and an end to bitter conflicts between outgoing President Traian Basescu and Ponta, promising to be a "mediator president." Basescu also congratulated Iohannis.
His win was also the failure of the nationalist card played by Ponta, who mocked his rival's minority German ethnicity and the fact that he is a Lutheran and not a member of the powerful Orthodox Church.
Challenged to sing the national anthem at a news conference, Iohannis gave a tenor rendering of the first verse on Friday, to applause.
Ethnic Germans who moved to Transylvania 800 years ago enjoy a good reputation in Romania and Romanians are generally not bothered by religious affiliation.
Iohannis, a teacher, has been the successful mayor of Sibiu, a city of 155,000, since 2000.
In the interview, Iohannis said he would "definitely bring more assurances and stability to this region."
He promised to crack down on endemic corruption and guarantee an independent justice system and said Parliament must not pass a law that would grant amnesties to people serving prison sentences for corruption.
"All this needs to be done as soon as possible," he said.
Ponta later said that he would propose a law to Parliament that would not allow amnesties for corruption convictions, adding that he also supported changing rules for Romanians voting abroad.