Romanian gov't expected to win bitter elections

Associated Press
Romania's President Traian Basescu, left, speaks to supporters gathered outside a voting station in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012. Millions of Romanians braved rain and snow Sunday as they went to the polls for a parliamentary election that center-left government is expected to win a, but the result could lead to more of the political instability that has plagued the impoverished Balkan nation this year. (AP Photo)
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BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romanians braved snow and heavy rain on Sunday to vote in a parliamentary election expected to return the government to power, a result that could inflame the personal rivalry between the nation's top two officials and bring yet more political upheaval.

Authorities were asking the army and the defense ministry to help clear roads closed by blizzards, and some 250 polling stations were prevented from opening on time, officials said. Though early turnout was low in some areas, it was unclear what kind of effect that might have on the vote.

Many Romanians are fed up with the power struggle between the country's top two leaders, especially as the country remains one of the poorest and most corrupt members of the European Union. Romania is enduring deep austerity cuts in return for a €20-million ($26-million) bailout to help its foundering economy.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta's coalition is expected to win a majority, but his battle with President Traian Basescu threatens to throw the country into a political standoff no matter the outcome.

Basescu must nominate the prime minister, and he has indicated he may not appoint Ponta even if his coalition takes the vote. The two have openly battled since Ponta tried and failed to impeach the center-right Basescu in July.

Basescu has been outspoken in his criticism of Ponta, accusing him of failing to follow democratic reforms in the formerly communist country, and calling him "a compulsive liar" who plagiarized his doctoral thesis. Ponta says Basescu is a divisive figure who has overstepped his role as president by meddling in government business.

Basescu could nominate someone else, but his choice would have to be approved by Parliament. If his candidate fails in two rounds of voting, Parliament could be dissolved.

Heavy rain was falling in Bucharest early Sunday, but it eased off later. Seven hours after voting began authorities said the turnout nationwide was 20.56 percent, normal for a parliamentary vote, but there was a significantly lower turnout in western regions hardest hit by snow.

Valentina Lupan, an architect voting in Bucharest, said she was determined to cast a ballot, despite the bad weather.

"People will go and vote even if there's snow and rain because they've had enough," she said. "We've had enough of being insulted and humiliated. We want a normal life."

As he voted, Basescu again accused the government of this former communist country of failing to devote itself to democratic reforms. He said Romania must continue its "path toward the West" and show the world it is "headed toward Brussels, not Moscow, and Washington, not Beijing."

For his part, Ponta said he remains committed to leading Romania to a better future.

More than 18 million Romanians are eligible to vote in Sunday's ballot to elect 452 representatives of a two-chamber Parliament for the next four years. Parties need at least 5 percent of the vote to secure a seat in the two-chamber legislature.

Polls put Ponta's Union of Socialist Liberals at about 57 percent, with Basescu allies, the center-right Just Romania Alliance, second with about 20 percent. The populist party of media tycoon Dan Diaconescu has profited from the rancor, coming in third with about 15 percent.

Besides the failed bid to impeach Basescu, the country has seen three prime ministers and Cabinets this year and huge anti-austerity protests. The EU and the United States criticized the government for failing to respect the rule of law and of ignoring constitutional rules during the impeachment attempt.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was monitoring Sunday's vote.

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