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Romania: Sunday's Vote May Bring Political Change

Prague, 1 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Electoral campaigning ended yesterday in Romania. The country takes now a brief respite before presidential and parliamentary ballots Sunday.

The contests are likely to result in a major shift in power, the first since the bloody revolt in December, 1989.

The presidential contest involves 16 candidates, but only three are given chances of success. They are the incumbent Ion Iliescu, academic Emil Constantinescu and former prime minister Petre Roman. All three are veterans of the defunct Communist Party but they all have since espoused moderately reformist views.

At the issue is the speed and scope of reforms. Iliescu insists on the need to continue "a measured" pace of reform.

"Romania needs no violent ruptures to destroy the delicate balance of society," Iliescu told the nationwide television audience yesterday during the final debate. He went on to say that the country "needs basic, accelerated change."

His rivals question the "delicacy" of the social balance and criticize Iliescu "timidity" in introducing and implementing changes.

"We are here to prove that things could be done differently," said Constantinescu.

Both he and Roman have long focused on the economy. Living standards have declined during recent years, falling markedly behind other former communist countries of Central Europe. Poverty is widespread.

Public opinion polls give Iliescu a slight lead over Constantinescu (32 to 28 percent), with Roman trailing further behind (about 22 percent).

Iliescu is favored to come on top, largely owing to his image as "the father of the nation" and guarantor of its stability. Iliescu has won two previous presidential votes, in 1990 and 1992, scoring impressive majorities. But this time, he is almost certain to be forced into runoff pitting two top vote-getter in a ballot to be held in mid-November.

The parliamentary contest involves some 30 political parties, nine of which currently hold seats. The single-round voting system eliminates parties which fail to gain three percent of the vote. Candidates run for 328 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 143 seats in the Senate.

The pre-election polls give the lead to Constantinescu's center-right Democratic Convention (32 percent), with Iliescu's ruling Social Democratic Party behind (26 percent) and Roman's Social Democratic Union (about 17 percent) in the third place. No other party has scored more than seven percent.

Irrespectively of who wins the parliamentary ballot, it is clear that the future government will represent a coalition of groups rather than a single party. And it is almost certain that this will be a coalition of parties opposed to the left-wing Iliescu-led Social Democrats. Both the Democratic Convention and the Social Democratic Union have said that they would not cooperate with the leftists.

But whether this will bring a more reformist government is less certain. The two major opposition parties have repeatedly attacked each other during the campaign, which featured widespread mud slinging, underhanded jibes and recurrent allegations of corruption. There is little to suggest that this will change after the ballots.

This will only produce a weak government over which the president -- perhaps again Iliescu -- will be able to wield considerable influence. And this will make changes and reforms even more difficult to accomplish.