BY MATTHIAS WILLIAMS AND RADU-SORIN MARINAS
(Reuters) - Romania's new president-elect Klaus Iohannis predicted on Tuesday that enough lawmakers could start abandoning Prime Minister Victor Ponta's ruling coalition in the coming weeks to bring down the government next year.
Iohannis, 55, an ethnic German from Transylvania who campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, defeated 42-year-old Ponta in a shock victory in a presidential election earlier this month.
In an interview with Reuters, Iohannis predicted that the presidential vote would erode the 65 percent majority controlled by Ponta's Social Democrats and their allies.
"Everybody wants to be on the winning side. So, it is possible that during the next weeks or months we will have changes in the parliament," Iohannis said at the headquarters of his National Liberal Party in Bucharest.
"So it's possible that during the year 2015 we will have this shifting which could give the National Liberal Party a majority, which then it would use to change the government."
Iohannis, whose promise to fight corruption helped make him Europe's most popular political leader on Facebook, has pledged to topple Ponta's government.
The presidency gives Iohannis the power to select a new prime minister if Ponta falls in a no-confidence vote, but that would require dozens of lawmakers to abandon the ruling coalition ahead of a general election due in 2016. Ponta's Social Democrats rely on two medium sized parties and several smaller groups for their large majority.
Ponta has said since the election that his coalition is stable and has ruled out resigning.
REPAIRING THE DAMAGE
Iohannis is a descendant of Saxons who have settled in Romania since the Middle Ages, and says he can trace his own family's roots to 16th century church records. Unlike thousands of ethnic Germans who moved to Germany after the fall of Communism in 1989, including his parents and sister, Iohannis stayed on.
A former physics teacher and schools inspector, Iohannis became mayor of Sibiu, also known by its German name of Hermannstadt, in 2000 and helped transform what was once a picturesque but dilapidated city into a tourist hub.
During a campaign which most expected him to lose, Iohannis made a point of not reacting to personal attacks. Opponents mocked his slow way of speaking and even his lack of children.
As president, Iohannis has pledged a more conciliatory approach than that taken by outgoing President Traian Basescu, who often feuded with Ponta over policy.
"I have to be very clear here, it's obvious that the prime minister and me had a competition and a lot of damage has been done," Iohannis said. "But, the competition is finished: we have a winner and we have a country to run."
An early flashpoint could be the 2015 budget, in which Ponta will have to balance sticking to a tight fiscal deficit target of 1.4 percent with honoring spending pledges, such as pension hikes, that he made during his campaign.
Iohannis will have the power to send government policies back to parliament once. During the interview, he refused to be drawn on what proposals he may veto, and on whether Romania should sign up to another aid deal with the International Monetary Fund after the current one expires next year.
"It is obviously very difficult to construct the budget with a deficit of 1.4 percent, which is the aim," he said. "On the other hand, I am not in favor of new taxes, so the government has difficult task and I can only hope that they'll come up with a decent draft."
Iohannis scored an early victory after the election by nudging parliament to scrap a controversial bill granting amnesty to politicians headed to jail on corruption charges.
He will follow that by pushing to cut the size of Romania's parliament and making party financing more transparent - changes he hopes will make Romania more attractive to investors.
Romania is emerging from painful budget cuts imposed during the global slowdown. Growth rebounded to more than 3 percent in the third quarter of 2014, but corruption and tax evasion are rife."I want to change the way politics is done in Romania: that means less show, more solutions for Romania," Iohannis said. "But we'll take it step by step. It is not possible to change the political class or the way the country runs overnight or within a week or a year."