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News 09 Dec 12

Romanians Elect New Parliament

Romanians vote on Sunday for a new parliament that may result in another enforced period of tense political cohabitation between president and prime minister.

Marian Chiriac

Latest polls predict that the December 9 parliamentary elections in Romania will be won with a large majority by the center-left coalition of Prime Minister Victor Ponta.

A low turnout is expected, as most of the 18 million people entitled to vote seem more interested in their daily problems and salary worries than current political disputes.

Elections are taking place in a climate of insecurity and frustration, with many people feeling immediately affected by recent years of austerity.

Voters will be able to cast ballots at over 18,749 polling stations in Romania and abroad, with 295 polling stations organized outside the country.

Polling stations are open from 7am to 9pm on Sunday. Over 50,000 people from the Interior Ministry, as well as independent observers, will monitor the voting.

The campaign has been calm with few violent incidents, but also with no serious debates over issues such as economic reforms and corruption – the issues that galvanised voters in previous elections.

The vote will probably only confirm the position of most of the parties already in power, analysts say.

The firm favourite is the ruling coalition, the Social Liberal Union, USL, which comprises leftist Social Democrats and centre-right Liberals and Conservatives.

The USL is expected to win around 58 to 60 per cent of the votes, according latest surveys.

The Alliance for the Romanian Right, ARD, a new grouping of centre-right parties, dominated by the opposition Democratic Liberals and aligned with Basescu, has the support of 17 to 18 per cent.

This relatively low figure suggests that the formation of the new alliance has not helped the Democratic Liberals recover their position, as the party remains unpopular for enforcing austerity measures in the past.

The People's Party, PP, a populist party that advocates big tax cuts and higher wages and pensions, is expected to come third with around 16 per cent.

The PP is run by journalist-turned businessman Dan Diaconescu who is under investigation for allegedly breaking the law in relation to his a bid for a chemical company, Oltchim, which was subsequently thrown out by privatisation officials.

The main party of the ethnic Hungarians in Romania, UDMR, is likely to enter parliament with around 5 per cent of the votes cast, polls suggest.

New jobs, increases in the minimum monthly wage and cuts in corporate and personal income taxes were among the main promises that the big parties have been touting ahead of the vote.

The USL pledges to create around 1.4 million new jobs, mainly in rural areas, as well as to raise pensions and attract more foreign investment.

For its part, the ARD has been promising to cut the single rate tax from 16 to 12 per cent, and lower employers' social contributions.

The ARD is also planning to raise the minimum wage from 700 lei (155 euro) a month to 850 lei in 2013 and 1,000 lei in 2015 and cut companies' social security contributions by 5 per cent from the current level of about 30 per cent.

Analysts say while all the political parties are trying to win the hearts of the people, they have to be more realistic.

The main question, meanwhile, is whether a future USL-backed government will be able to cohabit with President Traian Basescu.

Even if the USL wins a majority of seats, the vote could prolong the current political standoff if Basescu tries to appoint someone other than Ponta as prime minister in an attempt to split the alliance.

Basescu has said that he will use his powers on the day after the result to appoint a prime minister "in the national interest".

Under the constitution, the President has to appoint a political personality who has the support of a majority in parliament.

Any row over who is become the next prime minister might delay and complicate talks over a new deal with the International Monetary Fund, IMF. Uncertainty could also hit the value of Romanian assets.

Romania has been ruled by three governments this year alone. A long dispute between Ponta and Basescu resulted in a referendum on the impeachment of the President on July 29.

Most Romanians voted for impeachment but Basescu remained in his post because the turnout was low at only 46 per cent.

For an impeachment vote to be validated by the Constitutional Court, a turnout of at least 50 per was required. The President's mandate does not expire until 2014.


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