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Romania: Ex-Communist Iliescu Leads In Romanian Vote, Ultranationalist Second

Still incomplete results from yesterday's elections in Romania show former president and ex-Communist Ion Iliescu leading in the race for president. Iliescu's Social Democracy Party is also ahead in the voting for parliament. The returns so far also show ultranationalist Corneliu Tudor second in the presidential race, and his Greater Romania Party second in the general elections. Iliescu and Tudor are almost certain to confront one another in a presidential run-off scheduled in two weeks.

Prague, 27 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- For the fourth time since 1989, Romanians yesterday (Sunday) voted to elect a new parliament and president.

Only slightly more than half (56 percent) of the country's 18 million eligible voters actually cast ballots. But those that did appeared to favor, first, a return to power of a left party and, second, greater influence for ultranationalists.

In the race for president, ex-communist Ion Iliescu has already secured a place in a presidential run-off scheduled in two weeks (Dec 10). Based on the 58 percent of the ballots already counted, Iliescu has won more than 36 percent of the presidential vote. His left Social Democracy Party has so far won almost 38 percent of the seats in the two-chamber parliament.

Iliescu, who was President of Romania from 1990 until 1996, will most certainly face ultranationalist Corneliu Tudor in the runoff. Tudor -- who gave himself the nickname "Vadim" (which he claims means "victorious") -- has won almost 29 percent of the ballots so far counted.

The two candidates of the moderate right -- Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu and former Prime Minister Theodor Stolojan -- have so far each managed to win only from 10 to 12 percent of the ballots.

Both Iliescu and Tudor have promised to fight poverty and corruption, and to reinstate the rule of law. They have clearly taken advantage of discontent among Romanians with the outgoing centrist coalition government under President Emil Constantinescu.

Iliescu pledged to slow down the reforms undertaken by the centrists, providing the changes with what he calls "a rational basis." Tudor lacks a clear economic strategy. Well-known for his xenophobic, anti-Hungarian and anti-Semitic positions, Tudor promised exceptional measures to curb corruption and to set up what he describes as a "dictatorship of law."

Iliescu yesterday told RFE/RL he is confident he will defeat Tudor in the runoff:

"I think that people will judge with great responsibility who can be head of state -- and ensure the necessary balance in the country -- and who can properly represent the country abroad."

But Tudor says that Iliescu's international credibility is not the former president's strongest point. He tells RFE/RL that Iliescu's past foreign-policy successes have been greatly exaggerated:

"Mr. Ion Iliescu's experience is of a Muscovite. Let us not forget that he studied in Moscow, while I studied in Vienna. Mr. Ion Iliescu should have proved he had international credibility in his seven years in power, but I do not know of any of the international successes he pretends he had."

Many analysts note that in the past few months Tudor chipped away steadily at Iliescu's popularity. Tudor's popularity has risen consistently in opinion polls, while Iliescu's rating has fallen from more than 50 percent to less than 40 percent of the vote yesterday. For the moment, Iliescu is favored to win the run-off. But his victory is by no means certain. Yesterday, in some big Romanian cities and districts, Iliescu placed second after Tudor.

In the race for parliament, five parties have so far won more than the 5 percent of the vote needed for representation. The 38 percent so far garnered by Iliescu's Social Democracy Party is followed by Tudor's Greater Romania Party, with about 20 percent. The center-left Democratic Party -- a member of the outgoing coalition -- seems to be coming in a surprising third, with more than 7 percent. And another coalition group -- the center-right National Liberal Party -- has so far gained about the same score. An ethnic Hungarian party is the fifth to make it to parliament, with it consistent ethnic vote of some 6 percent.

But the Democratic Convention alliance, which includes the main driving force of the current governing coalition and the right-of-center Christian Democrat National Peasant Party, failed to put together the necessary 10 percent mandatory for alliances to win parliamentary representation.

This will therefore be the first time since the fall of communism that the Christian Democrats will be absent from parliament. Their decline is especially worrying because it was the Christian Democrats who in the past four years pushed ahead with important bills on property restitution and access to files belonging to the former communist secret police, the Securitate.

It is still unclear what the next governing coalition will look like. Iliescu and Tudor's parties together may have enough votes for an outright majority. But even though they were allied in previous governments under Iliescu, this time the former president has firmly excluded any collaboration with Tudor's party:

"There's no question of a coalition [of Iliescu's party with Tudor's party.] It simply is out of question." "

But Tudor has declined to comment on his plans for parliamentary alliances before the second round of the presidential vote:

"I think it is premature to talk about post-electoral political alliances, since we do not know something important -- who the next president will be."

Iliescu's Social Democracy Party has already indicated it may go ahead with a minority government if the results so far are finally confirmed. The party says a minority government could function because the opposition -- which would include Tudor's ultranationalists and the ethnic Hungarian party -- will be too divided to pose any real threat.