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Romania: Ruling Party Retains Thin Lead In Election

Partial official results from Romania's presidential and parliamentary elections yesterday are giving the ruling ex-communists a small lead over opposition centrists. The leadership will lead the Balkan country as it seeks to gain European Union membership in 2007 by implementing economic and judicial reforms.

Prague, 29 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Partial results from yesterday's parliamentary poll show Romania's ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) holding a narrow lead.

The Central Election Commission announced today that -- with almost 50 percent of the ballots counted -- the PSD and its smaller ally the Humanist Party have captured about 35 percent of the seats in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

The opposition Justice and Truth alliance has so far garnered about 32 percent of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 32.5 percent in the Senate.

In the presidential race, the PSD's candidate, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, is also ahead. He has won 39 percent of the votes counted to date.

Because Nastase cannot win 50 percent of the votes, he will have to face the Justice and Truth alliance's candidate, Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu, in a runoff election on 12 December. Basescu has received 35 percent of the votes counted so far.

The winner of the likely presidential runoff will replace outgoing President Ion Iliescu of the PSD.

Joan Hoey, a senior analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit in London, noted that there is no great ideological divide between the two main parties.

She said that she does not see the elections having any direct impact on Romania's EU accession because any government will have to follow the EU path.

"From that perspective -- Romania's goal of joining the EU in 2007 -- I don't think there's much choice between the two main political factions. Both the incumbents and the opposition are dedicated to achieving this goal," Hoey said. "Whichever party leads the government [will have] few policy options if they want to achieve that target. They will have to pursue the same kind of economic policies and reform policies -- judicial-administrative reform and so on."

Political analysts say the wafer-thin difference in the votes gained by the two parties will make it very difficult for the new leadership to form a government capable of rapidly implementing economic and judicial reforms. That is an essential issue for Romania if it is to maintain the pace of its ongoing membership negotiations with the EU.
Because Nastase cannot win 50 percent of the votes, he will have to face the Justice and Truth alliance's candidate, Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu, in a runoff presidential election on 12 December.

Still, the main rivals in Romania's elections did try to distinguish themselves to voters on domestic issues.

The opposition Justice and Truth alliance said it would fight widespread corruption within the administration and introduce a flat 16 percent tax on personal income and profits to crack down on Romania's widespread "black," or illegal, economy. The PSD countered by saying it alone has the experience to lead the country.

Hoey said voters responded to Justice and Truth's blaming the ruling party for widespread corruption and low living standards. Justice and Truth is an alliance of two parties -- the center-left Democrat Party and the center-right National Liberal Party.

But she said that many voters also credit the ruling party for bringing Romania into NATO and for boosting the country's economic growth. The growth rate could reach 8 percent this year by some estimates.

"There must be the perception that Romania has been fairly stable over the past four years. The [PSD] has conducted negotiations with the EU pretty competently," Hoey said. "They've made enormous progress if we compare 2004 with where Romania was in 2000 when it was seen with no hope from the point of view of [EU] membership. They've presided strong economic growth, they brought down inflation, they've privatized."

Yesterday's vote has seen some charges of irregularities.

The Romanian rights organization Pro Democratia, which deployed 3,300 observers, reported 38 cases of irregularities across the country, including cases of voters being accompanied into voting booths by electoral personnel. According to the organization voters have admitted to having been paid for their votes in some localities.

Ioan Onisei, a senior official in the Justice and Truth alliance, said the party will demand an investigation into reports of poll irregularities.