World hopes Romanian poll ends crisis
Romanians go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president for a five-year term, amid a serious recession and an ongoing political crisis prompted by the fall of the government in mid-October.
The polls opened at 7:00 am Romanian time.
Twelve candidates, all men, are running in this first presidential election since Romania entered the European Union in 2007.
But Sunday’s vote was likely to lead to a run-off election on December 6 with the incumbent centre-right president, Traian Basescu, and his Social Democrat rival Mircea Geoana neck-in-neck in opinion polls.
Tie too close to call
Each expected to win between 30 and 32 percent of votes in the first round, both were clear front-runners ahead of the Liberal Crin Antonescu, opinion polls showed ahead of the election.
Basescu, a former sea captain, has pointed to his achievements as president, including the country’s entry into the EU, his condemnation of the Communist-era regime and progress in the fight against corruption, even though Romania remains near the bottom of the latest corruption index published by Transparency International.
He has also pushed for further state-level reforms and called for a referendum, also to be held on Sunday, to reduce the number of deputies in parliament to 300, from a current 471.
Meanwhile, Geoana, a career diplomat and president of the Social Democrats who likes to compare himself to former British premier Tony Blair or ex-US president Bill Clinton, has proposed a “vigorous” anti-crisis plan that includes building family housing and larger credit opportunities for companies.
International eyes on the economy
Analysts however have said this will be difficult, if not impossible, to finance while the public deficit is due to reach 7.3 percent of gross domestic product and the economy is to shrink by 8.0 percent in 2009.
The election will be closely watched by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, as both organizations have delayed payments of a US$30 billion IMF-led rescue package for Romania after the collapse of the government last month.
There will also be hope in international circles that the new government appoints a Prime Minister to tackle economic concerns.
Over 18 million people out of the population of 21.5 million are eligible to vote.
But with many Romanians claiming disillusionment with their politicians, 20 years after the fall of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, participation was expected to be under 50 percent.