Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Romanian mayor may complicate election battle

BUCHAREST, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Bucharest mayor Sorin Oprescu said on Monday he would run for president in a November election, standing as an independent in a move which could throw the race wide open.

His candidacy could steal support from centrist incumbent and frontrunner Traian Basescu, whose position has been undermined by last week's split of his coalition government.

Analysts say he could also take votes away from Mircea Geoana, leader of the Social Democrats (PSD).

'Oprescu's plus is that he runs as an independent and that he is a leftist, having the capacity of straight-talking, which Romanians like. The political climate is also very favourable for him,' said political analyst Bogdan Teodorescu.

Under Romanian law, the president is supposed to be independent, with limited powers aside from nominating the prime minister, but strong personalities such as Basescu and his predecessor Ion Iliescu have wielded much influence in the past.

The next president is expected to play a pivotal role in forming a new cabinet after the Nov. 22 election.

A victory by Basescu, who has close links with the Democrat Liberals, would strengthen the centrists who now have a minority cabinet since their coalition split.

But a victory by Geoana would bolster his Social Democrats (PSD) return to cabinet after they surprisingly walked out in protest at the sacking of a minister.

Opinion polls show Basescu ranking first with 33 percent, 5 percentage points ahead of Geoana, but August surveys did not take into account Oprescu's candidacy.

Oprescu, a 57-year-old surgeon, and former PSD member, said the recipe for fighting economic crisis would be his independent status, blaming both the Democrat-Liberals and the PSD for splitting their cabinet and endangering reforms.

'I will run as a true independent as I do not have any obligation towards any of the parties,' said Oprescu on Monday as the country's public services were brought to a near standstill by 800,000 workers protesting IMF-mandated pay cuts.

Analysts said Oprescu's bid would likely pose a real threat to both Basescu and Geoana.

'Many Romanians are tired of political parties and politicians,' said political analyst Mircea Marian.

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