BUCHAREST (AFP) - 's first election to the European Parliament this weekend dealt a severe blow to Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu and his party, with the opposition winning by a substantial margin, preliminary results showed on Monday.
According to a partial vote count on Monday afternoon, the opposition Democratic Party (PD) won 28.78 percent of votes on Sunday, followed by the fellow opposition Social Democratic PSD with 23.14 percent.
Tariceanu's National Liberal Party (PNL) came only third with a 13.45-percent share of the vote.
The final official results were scheduled to be released before Wednesday, with the allocation of seats in the EU parliament expected a few days later.
Turnout was low at 28.4 percent, but that was around the average for EU elections in other post-communist countries. In May, 28.6 percent of Bulgarians had turned out for their first EU election.
"The PD has achieved its goal of winning the European elections," boasted party chief Emil Boc.
Nevertheless, the PD's showing was actually disappointing: pre-election polls had forecast the party winning 35-40 percent of the vote, fuelling hopes of victory in next year's municipal and parliamentary elections.
"It's a victory without glory," diagnosed the daily Cotidianul.
That view was shared by political analyst Alexandru Lazescu, who said the PD "must understand that its position is still fragile and future election battles will be more difficult than expected."
Tariceanu's liberal party tried to put on a brave face, with the premier himself claiming that "Romanians have given us their vote of confidence."
Party deputy Ioan Ghise nevertheless described the PNL's showing as "modest", arguing that the battle the liberals had been waging for more than a year with President had tarnished their image in voters' eyes.
Sociologist Mircea Kivu suggested the PNL "is paying the price for the corruption scandals" surrounding a number of ministers such as Decebal Remes, who quit as agricultural minister in the wake of a bribery scandal last month.
Even pension increases and promises of higher wages have been unable to boost the government's showing.
By contrast, the tiny Liberal Democratic Party or PLD, formed from a breakaway from the PNL just a year ago, surprised in the polls, coming fourth with an 7.78-percent share of the vote.
Strengthened by such a showing, the PLD vowed to collect enough signatures to file a in the government.
"We can't allow to lose even more time as a result of a government that does not enjoy voters' support and only takes care of its own interests," PLD chief and former prime minister Theodor Stolojan told AFP.
For their part, the Social Democrats have been able to make good some of the ground lost over the failure of their leader Mircea Geona to force a vote of no confidence in the government and depose prime minister Tariceanu.
The Hungarian minority in Romania will be represented in the EU parliament by the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania or UDMR, which won 5.8 percent of the vote and the only independent candidate, Reformed Bishop Laszlo Tokes, who secured 3.8 percent.
In all, Romania will send 35 deputies to the European Parliament which is based in and .
They will replace the existing 35 observers sent by to Brussels in September 2005, who have had full voting rights since Romania formally joined the EU on January 1, 2007.
The new members of the European Parliament will only have an 18-month mandate before facing re-election, since there are EU parliamentary elections scheduled across the bloc for June 2009.