Klaus Iohannis, Romania's 'firefighter' president

Ionut IORDACHESCU
Klaus Iohannis faced a barrage of criticism in the run-up to Sunday's election for refusing to join a debate with his opponent

Klaus Iohannis, who was re-elected Romania's president by a landslide on Sunday, has described himself as a "firefighter who prevented Romania from collapsing".

The former physics professor, known as "the German" because of his ancestry, has used the limited powers of the presidency to back anti-corruption protesters and boost ties with the United States.

Critics say the liberal shirks debates and lacks charisma, but thanks to deep voter resentment against the Social Democrat Party (PSD), he crushed its candidate, former prime minister Viorica Dancila.

- Praised by Trump -

Iohannis's first five years in office -- which he secured in 2014 when he beat another PSD heavyweight in a surprise upset -- were marked by constant disagreement with the left-wing party, which has dominated politics since the communist era ended in 1989.

The 60-year-old has regularly rejected PSD initiatives, most notably a move to decriminalise several corruption offences.

Iohannis sided with hundreds of thousands of protesters -- and the European Union -- in opposition to those reforms.

In the lead-up to Sunday's vote, Iohannis promised to rid Romania's institutions of corruption -- with the help of a new government spearheaded by the party he once led, the centre-right National Liberal Party (PNL).

"A modern, European, normal Romania won today," Iohannis told reporters after his victory.

Away from domestic politics, Iohannis has been an ally of US President Donald Trump, twice visiting the White House and winning praise as someone who "could solve the corruption problem in Romania".

"Iohannis was a corridor of communication with our partners... at a time when Romania's affiliations to Western values were in doubt," former foreign minister Cristian Diaconescu told AFP.

But even Iohannis' supporters have sometimes complained that he has not been forceful enough -- noting in particular that he buckled under pressure and allowed an anti-graft prosecutor to be dismissed.

- Plea to emigrants -

Often criticised for lacking charisma and being a poor public speaker, he refused to give in-depth interviews throughout his first term.

Former diplomat Ciprian Mihali told AFP that Iohannis was a "cold man, calculated, who measures his every step".

He faced a barrage of criticism in the run-up to Sunday's election for refusing to join a debate with his opponent Dancila.

"I cannot accept a debate with a person who represents the worst in Romania's politics from the last 30 years," Iohannis said.

He later held a press conference and a Q&A session but otherwise stuck to campaign rallies where he was always surrounded by his PNL allies.

Iohannis has faced embarrassment at the hands of the media before, particularly over questions about his personal wealth -- he once owned six houses.

Before he became president, an interviewer asked why other teachers could not afford six houses and he replied it was "bad luck".

Earlier he was mayor for 14 years of Sibiu, his home city in central Romania, once host to a sizable German minority.

However, with the fall of communism and the 2007 EU accession, many Romanians with German roots chose to move to Germany -- Iohannis's parents among them.

The German population were not the only ones to leave. Roughly four million Romanians live outside the country, many seeking better paid jobs in the European Union.

Despite his own family background, Iohannis has urged his countrymen to return, telling them: "I am Romanian... Me, I choose to stay, and I'm proud of it."