Monday, November 23, 2009

Romania Presidential Poll Overshadowed By Political Turmoil

Voice of America News

Romanians vote Sunday in a presidential election with president Traian Basescu and his main left-wing challenger tied in opinion polls. The international community hopes the vote will resolve a government crisis that has paralyzed Romania, which is facing a major economic crisis.

Sunday's presidential ballot in Romania is closely monitored by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. Both organizations have delayed installments of a $30 billion IMF-led rescue package for the country after last month's collapse of its center-left government.

The Social Democrats quit the coalition to protest the dismissal of their interior minister for comments about possible election fraud. These remarks were seen as an accusation that the ruling Liberal Democrats might cheat to get Romania's 58-year-old president, Traian Basescu,

The IMF hopes that after the elections, the president will quickly appoint a new prime minister to tackle deep economic reforms, that critics say governments ignored since communism collapsed in 1989.

Romania urgently needs international aid to pay state sector salaries and pensions at a time when the economy is expected to shrink by up to eight percent this year.

President Basescu, a former sea captain, wants to be re-elected to in his words 'steer the Romanian ship' through the current economic storm.

Speaking at a televised election debate Friday, Mr. Basescu said he deserves to receive another five-year term because he proved during his mandate that he is ready "to fight for more justice" and against corruption that has undermined the economy.

He also wants to reduce the number of lawmakers, saying a 471-member parliament is "too expensive" and even organized a referendum on this issue parallel with Sunday's ballot.

Recent opinion polls have given Mr. Basescu about one-third of the vote, but that is only a slight edge over his main challenger Mircea Geoana.

The 51-year old Geoana, a former foreign minister who leads the leftist Social Democrats, received applause at Friday's election debate, after saying he had a plan to tackle Romania's economic crisis.

Geoana makes clear that even if he does not become president, he hopes his economic project will be implemented. It includes giving cheap credits to enterprises to help create jobs while also providing affordable housing for young people.

Western organizations have made clear however that whoever wins Sunday's ballot will face the prospect that real long-term economic growth can only be achieved with tough measures. They include IMF-backed plans to sack up to 150,000 of Romania's 1.3 million public workers, freezing state wages and cut pensions.

Some 1,000 local and international monitors are observing Sunday's vote. As no candidate is expected to receive more than 50 percent of the vote , a final run-off election is scheduled for December 6.

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