Romanian president re-elected in disputed vote

8th December 2009, Comments 0 comments

Romanians went to the ballot box hoping for an end to a political standoff that has held up crucial international aid for the recession-wracked country.

Bucharest -- Centre-right Romanian President Traian Basescu was declared winner of weekend elections Monday but the party of his main rival immediately disputed the result with allegations of fraud.

Official results gave Basescu a second term with a slim lead, confounding predictions by many observers that Social-Democrat candidate Mircea Geoana would win Sunday's poll in a country deeply mired in recession.

Basescu, a former sea captain, had gone to the polls promising tough state reforms while Geoana, an ex-diplomat, pledged to maintain jobs and "reunite Romania" after years of political squabbling.

With all the ballots counted, the incumbent had 50.33 percent of the vote against Geoana's 49.66 percent, the Central Election Office announced.

Geoana's Social Democrat party objected even before the final results were declared.

"We are obliged to contest the result of the election," party official Liviu Dragnea said, citing ballots cancelled and returns altered by provincial election offices.

"Our conviction is that the Romanians have elected Mr Geoana but the state apparatus of Traian Basescu is trying to turn the result into a victory in a fraudulent manner," he said.

In total 138,000 votes were cancelled, about 1.32 percent of those cast, officials said.

A Social-Democrat leader, Viorel Hrebenciuc, also claimed "irregularities and fraud.”

But election monitors the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the vote -- the second round after one two weeks ago -- was "generally" in line with its standards.

"The conduct for the second round confirms our initial assessment that this election was held generally in line with OSCE commitments," Vadim Zhdanovich, head of the body's monitoring mission, told reporters.

He nonetheless called on authorities to investigate reports of irregularities without delay.

The two contenders, both in their 50s, finished almost neck-and-neck in the first round of voting, with Basescu winning 32.4 percent and Geoana 31 percent.

Non-government organisation Pro Democratia, which had a limited observer mission, also said it had not seen major irregularities in the latest round.

"We do not have a complete vision as we only had 1,400 observers for 21,000 polling stations, but we do not have any evidence proving massive fraud so far," the group's head, Cristian Parvulescu, told AFP.

Late Sunday, most exit polls put Geoana ahead in the tight election that the candidates labelled the most important since the fall of communism 20 years ago.

Geoana -- who had won the support of Romania's third largest political force, the PNL liberal party -- loudly claimed victory in front of his supporters just after polling stations closed Sunday.

"Our victory is a victory for all Romanians who want a better life," he said, accompanied by his smiling wife and two children.

But Basescu insisted he was the winner, telling his supporters: "I have won. I assure you that the correct exit polls show that I have beaten Mircea Geoana."

In 2004, he won the election in similar conditions after exit polls put him behind his opponent Adrian Nastase.

Through the night Sunday, small groups of both candidates' supporters took to the streets to celebrate, Geoana's backers dressed in red, Basescu's in orange.

Romanians went to the ballot box hoping for an end to a political standoff that has held up crucial international aid for the recession-wracked country, which has been led by a caretaker government since October.

The new president will have no time to lose in appointing a prime minister in order to unlock aid from a 20-billion-euro bailout plan from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank.

Isabelle Wesselingh/AFP/Expatica

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