Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Romanian leftists seek re-run of presidential vote

Tue Dec 8, 2009

* Social Democrats contest election result in court

* Leftists say want re-run of presidential runoff

* Court expected to reject the complaint this week

By Radu Marinas and Luiza Ilie

BUCHAREST, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Romania's Social Democrats demanded a rerun on Tuesday of a presidential election runoff narrowly won by incumbent Traian Basescu, part of a complaint to the Constitutional Court that the vote was marred by fraud.

The move could extend a political crisis that has already sidelined the European Union newcomer's 20 billion euro financial rescue deal and threatened recovery prospects for an economy expected to shrink by up to 8 percent this year.

Analysts said it would have little chance of overturning the result of Sunday's election in which ex-ship captain Basescu beat Social Democrat leader Mircea Geoana by just 70,000 of 11 million votes cast.

Geoana, a former foreign minister and envoy to Washington, has not conceded and says evidence of widespread vote-buying and multiple ballot casting shows Basescu stole the election.

"I won this election," Geoana said after the party filed the complaint. "In two days the Constitutional Court will decide whether we have five years of a Basescu regime of fraud, lying and manipulation, or if the Romanian people will have a chance to re-run the election."

Basescu said he will comment once the Central Election Bureau confirms the results. The court can invalidate them in part or fully, and ask for repeat vote if it deems them marred by large enough fraud to have distorted the outcome.

"It will take one to three days to reach a conclusion and communicate it," Constitutional Judge Ion Predescu told Reuters.

The leu EURRON= was 0.1 percent off against the euro, with dealers saying they suspected the central bank was propping it up by selling euros.


The leftists' complaint has prolonged a standoff that has left the country of 22 million -- which this month marks the 20th anniversary of the overthrow and execution of communist dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu -- without a functioning government since opposition parties brought down a Basescu-allied cabinet in a no confidence vote in October.

But the prospect of a new term for Basescu has rattled markets. Analysts say his abrasive style could lead to more deadlock over reforms to fix the bloated public sector and fight graft.

The centre-right president has won praise from Brussels for trying to stamp out corruption, while the leftists and other parties have blocked probes into high-level politicians such as former Social Democrat Prime Minister Adrian Nastase.

But Basescu struggled to fix a huge state system riddled with cases of inefficiency, fraud, and political patronage, a main reason why Romania is the EU's second poorest and most corrupt member.

The International Monetary Fund said on Tuesday it was "pretty firm" on a demand that Romania passes a 2010 budget with a deficit of 5.9 percent of gross domestic product and has prescribed austerity steps including 150,000 state job cuts.

It has made the creation of a government and the budget a condition to it handing over a 1.5 billion aid tranche key for Bucharest to finance the budget and avert a deeper recession.

If the results are confirmed, Basescu is expected to first seek a centre-right government with his preferred coalition partner, the Liberals, who formed a pre-election alliance with the leftists with the intent of sharing power if Geoana won.

Analysts say a more likely scenario is that he will team up with a coalition of ethnic-oriented parties and then lure defectors from opposition groupings.

Political pundits said, however, that continued wrangling was hurting Romania's chances of meeting the IMF's demands, cutting its budget gap, and spurring quick recovery.

"The delays are not good," said political commentator Cristian Patrasconiu said. "The longer the uncertainty is prolonged the worse it gets for Romania."

On Tuesday, the OECD mission in Romania said the elections were generally in line with its standards but as its observers did not cover the whole country, it could not say whether irregularities effected the result.

"There have been irregularities, mostly multiple voting, but those need to be investigated urgently by the authorities," the OECD'S Jens Eschenbacher said.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie, Marius Zaharia, and Ioana Patran; Writing by Michael Winfrey; editing byAngus MacSwan)

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