Romanians vote amid deep crisis

Romanians vote amid deep crisis

New leadership expected to take country out of economic crisis

Romanians vote amid deep crisis

President Traian Basescu, who represents Romania’s political centre, has lost some public support during a first five-year term characterised by a stormy relationship with parliament and a deep economic crisis. His main rival is former foreign minister Mircea Geoana, who heads the leftist Social Democrats and is head of the Senate.

More than 18 million Romanians are eligible to vote, but none of the dozen candidates is expected to get more than 50 per cent in the first round, and polls show Basescu with only a slight lead over his main rival. That means a runoff election is likely on December 6.

Romania slipped into political turmoil when parliament dismissed the two-party government of Prime Minister Emil Boc on October 13 after a dispute between the coalition partners over control of the interior ministry, which oversees the presidential vote.

The Social Democrats said the Liberal Democrats, who are close to Basescu, wanted to run the ministry so they could control the presidential vote and allow election fraud. Parliament then failed to vote on another government, and Boc has run a caretaker government with limited powers since October.

Romania’s economy, already in a deep recession, is expected to shrink some 8.5 per cent this year. The International Monetary Fund blocked a euro1.5 billion ($2.22 billion) loan because Romania does not have a government or 2010 budget.

Romania needs the loan to pay state sector salaries and pensions, but is unlikely to get it before the new year. Some 1.3 million state workers will be forced to take eight days of unpaid leave by the end of 2009.“It is one of the most important votes we have had,” Basescu said before about 100 cheering supporters.