By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
Listen: Listen to Bos’ report
BUCHAREST/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– Latest official results show that Romanian President Traian Basescu has won the first round of Sunday’s presidential ballot with about 32.5 percent of the vote. His main rival Mircea Geoana received about 30.8 percent. However, the poll has been overshadowed by reported election fraud and a political and economic crisis in the country.
Shouting his name, supporters have been celebrating the victory of in the first round of presidential elections that focused attention on ways to overcome a political and economic crisis.
Romania’s Central Electoral Bureau said the 58-year-old Mr. Basescu received about one third of the vote. That was slightly more than his main rival Mircea Geoana, a 51-year-old former foreign minister, who now leads the left-leaning Social Democrats.
Conservative opposition leader Crin Antonescu came in a distant third with about 20 percent.
Because no one won more than 50 percent of the vote, the two top contenders will face each other in a final round on December 6.
Yet, Basescu seemed pleased with the results so far. He said, “Today was a victory we obtained in the first stage of the presidential race.” Basescu added that he is pleased that about half of Romania’s 18 million eligible voters participated in Sunday’s ballot, describing the turn-out as “a big motive for joy and satisfaction.”
President Basescu is also happy with the outcome of a referendum he initiated on reducing the number of legislators.
Latest results showed that about 80 percent of voters supported Mr. Basescu’s proposal to reduce the parliament from 471 to 300 seats. They also backed his call to abolish one of the parliament’s two legislative chambers.
The elections were closely monitored by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. They postponed installments of a $30 billion IMF-led loan to the country citing political concerns after the collapse of the leftist-centrist coalition last month.
Romania, one of Europe’s poorest nations, urgently needs international aid to tackle its worst recession in years. Its economy is expected to shrink by up to eight percent this year. Unemployment officially stands at over seven percent.
Following the presidential elections, the IMF and EU want the president to quickly appoint a new prime minister, who is expected to introduce long postponed reforms. Analysts believe they may include IMF-backed plans to dismiss 150,000 of 1.3 million state workers, reduce pensions and freeze state wages.
However Western hopes that the presidential elections will bring political stability have been overshadowed by reports of election fraud in Sunday’s vote.
Apparently more people than normal cast ballots at 3,500 centers that were set up for Romanians voting outside their area of residence. Election officials said over 430,000 people voted at such locations, and witnesses claimed some were being bused there after already having cast ballots elsewhere.
Authorities also said two people were detained in the southern city of Giurgiu for trying to buy votes. There were widespread reports throughout Romania about people being offered incentives – from sugar and oil to blankets and flowers in exchange for votes.
It was unclear to what extend this had impacted the results of the presidential election, which was described by the president and his main rival as “one of the most important votes” since communism collapsed in 1989. (BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key news developments impacting the Church and or compassionate professionals in (former) Communist countries and other autocratic nations. This BosNewsLife News story also airs via its affiliated Voice Of America (VOA) network. www.voanews.com).