Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Democrat-Liberals win most seats in Romanian vote

By Radu Marinas

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - The centrist party linked to Romania's president narrowly won Sunday's election, party officials said on Tuesday, but it was unclear which possible coalition would emerge to tackle the country's economic woes.

The Democrat-Liberal Party (PD-L) tied to President Traian Basescu said its first option was to rebuild a centrist alliance with the Liberals following results unlikely to change before final official tallies due probably on Thursday.

Although this alliance collapsed in feuding last year and new talks could founder, economic analysts say such a coalition has more chance of battling economic problems and corruption than any involving the traditionally freer-spending PSD.

The PD-L came out on top due to a redistribution of seats after incomplete results had earlier shown the rival leftist Social Democrats (PSD) winning most votes.

Both rival parties need to form a coalition to govern, but the PD-L captured 115 seats in parliament's 334-seat lower house, just one ahead of the PSD, party officials said. The tally for both houses puts the PD-L on 166 and the PSD on 163.

The seat redistribution allowing the PD-L to pull ahead of the PSD, a party once tainted by slow reforms and sleaze scandals, resulted from newly introduced electoral procedures that include a winner-takes-all system in each constituency.

With no party winning a majority, coalition negotiations will be tough and any arrangement could include the Liberal Party (PNL) of outgoing Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu, which won 65 seats in the lower house and 28 in the 137-seat Senate.

A quick solution will be key to placate financial markets, jittery about Romania's slow response to the global credit crunch, which many economists say threatens to push the poor nation of 22 million people into crisis next year.

Whoever leads the new government will also have to convince economists that it will control state spending decisively to lower the risk of a funding shortage.

COALITION TALKS

Official negotiations have yet to start, but the PD-L made its initial intentions to team up with the Liberals clear.

"Our first option is to have a rightist (government) because Romanians undoubtedly voted for the right. But this option may not be the only one on the cards," said PD-L head Emil Boc.

Romania joined the EU last year thanks to economic and judiciary reforms introduced by the centrists to open up markets and fight corruption, an endemic weakness, after years of Socialist rule mired in scandals and slow transition.

The Liberals are likely to play tough although they have yet to say under what conditions they would renew the partnership, plagued by personality clashes between Tariceanu and Basescu.

"I can only repeat our only subject of discussion is our governing programme, which is not negotiable," Tariceanu said after meeting party seniors.

The PSD has plans of its own to return to government after four years in opposition.

It may try to outmaneouvre the Democrats and forge a coalition with the Liberals, although this would require convincing Basescu to play along. Under Romanian law, the president nominates the prime minister.

The PSD has also suggested any three parties could cobble together a broad coalition.

"There are other solutions, grand coalition governments," the PSD's Mircea Geoana told reporters.

A small ethnic Hungarian group has 22 seats in the lower house.

While both parliament's chambers can initiate legislation and each bill has to be cleared by both, the lower house has final say on most laws.

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