Monday, November 16, 2009

Romanian president steps up attacks ahead of poll

CLUJ, Romania : Sunday, 15 November 2009

CLUJ, Romania - Campaigning intensified Saturday ahead of Romania's presidential election with incumbent Traian Basescu attacking the opposition and the media in his bid for a second term.

While his Social-Democrat opponent Mircea Geoana is offering more investment to beat recession Basescu is pledging to cut spending ahead of the vote on Sunday November 22.

"I will not abandon the fight against parliament and the media moguls. I want a second term," Basescu told thousands of supporters gathered in Cluj 600 kilometres (370 miles) northwest of Bucharest).

His favourite campaign theme, reducing the number of lawmakers, drew applause from supporters wearing orange parkas and caps, most of whom seemed to agree a 471-member parliament was "too expensive".

The former sea captain who became president in 2004 shook hands and patted children before climbing on the stage to deliver his speech.

"I was the one to stop doubtful privatisations," he said, implicitly accusing rival Social-Democrats of underhand practices while in power for most of the 20 years since the fall of the communist regime in 1989.

He also pledged to bring "more equity" to people living in the countryside and to cut public spending.

In Brasov, 160 kilometres (100 miles) north of Bucharest on Friday, his rival Mircea Geoana was met by a sea of red flags and banners.

The two men are expected to face each other in a run-off, due on December 6, because neither is likey to get a majority in the first round which is also expected to fail to meet a requirement that half of all eligible voters take part.

Geoana promised vigorous measures

Geoana, the former ambassador to the United States and foreign affairs minister who speaks fluent English and French, described himself as a "man of dialogue", who can "restore Romania's unity", allegedly "jeopardized" by Basescu.

"Being part of the European Union cannot replace good governance," he said, before mentioning his efforts to have Romania admitted to NATO, back in 2004.

He promised "vigorous measures" to pull the country out of the economic crisis, such as building affordable flats for young people and giving cheap credits to enterprises in order to help create jobs.

Romania, which joined the EU in 2007, is in the grip of severe recession. The economy is expected to contract eight percent in 2009.

20 billion euro loan from IMF and EU

Basescu and Geoana had joined forces in December 2004 in the aftermath of legislative elections which gave their parties, PDL and PSD, similar scores.

But the PSD left the ruling coalition in early October, provoking the collapse of the minority government led by Emil Boc.

An attempt by an economist, Lucian Croitoru, named by Basescu, to form a new government failed when parliament refused to back it.

A second prime minister-designate, Liviu Negoita, is still waiting for the opposition-dominated parliament to meet in order to vote on his line-up.

But analysts expect the caretaker government will remain in office until after the presidential election.

The ongoing political crisis has prevented Romania from getting two instalments of a 20-billion-euro loan from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. -- AFP

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