Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tide Turns Against Romania's Basescu Ahead of Vote


BUCHAREST—Romanian leftist leader Mircea Geoana will unseat incumbent President Traian Basescu in a presidential runoff ballot on Sunday, one of the last expected polls before the vote showed on Tuesday.

In one of Romania's most important votes since the 1989 fall of communism, the victor must end a political stalemate to bring an International Monetary Fund-led aid package back on track and will have five years to influence long-delayed reforms.

Geoana, head of the ex-communist Social Democrats, came in a close second behind Basescu in the Nov. 22 first round vote, but has leapt ahead after sealing a deal with the centrist Liberal party to form a cabinet if he wins, the INSOMAR poll showed.

A former ambassador to Washington, he has won support among needy Romanians by pledging to shield them from economic pain during an expected 8 percent economic contraction this year.

The poll showed him leading with 54 percent, versus 46 for Basescu. The poll was conducted on Nov. 28-29 on around 12,000 respondents and has an error margin of 1.5 percent.

A fast resolution to the political crisis, which started with the October collapse of a Basescu-allied minority cabinet, is key to drafting of a 2010 budget required by the IMF and unlocking the next tranche of the 20 billion euro rescue deal.

The IMF put the deal on hold in November due to the political turmoil and has said it will resume talks once parties agree on a new government and cost-cutting budget.
Basescu ‘buried’

Although many voters support Basescu's drive to wipe out rampant graft, he has shown few results, and voters complain his aggressive style has alienated all other political parties and paralysed policy in the Balkan state of 22 million people.

After a string of scandals, the former ship captain suffered his latest blow last week when TV channels aired footage from a 2004 rally in which he appeared to hit a boy. They later refused to broadcast a briefing in which he said the footage was fake.

"It's now clear that Basescu will lose," said political analyst Mircea Marian. "This year has effectively buried him."

Analysts said if Basescu were to win, he would better pursue IMF-mandated reforms and fight graft that has made Romania the European Union's most corrupt state with Bulgaria and Greece.

Investors are more nervous about Geoana, who has resisted endorsing IMF recommendations including up to 150,000 public sector job cuts—advice that angered his powerful trade union allies and sparked a strike by 800,000 civil servants, teachers and nurses last month.

They also say the Social Democrats are more likely to drag their feet on trimming back Romania's huge public sector and fighting graft. But they say he could end the political crisis more quickly than Basescu because his party and the Liberals control two thirds of parliament.

Geoana has vowed to form a government by Christmas.

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