The opposition Social Democrats are poised to become Romania’s strongest party while Prime Minister Calin Popescu’s National Liberal Party suffered a clear defeat, exit polls released after Sunday’s parliamentary elections showed.
In voting for both the Senate and the lower chamber of parliament, separate exit polling by the survey organizations Insomar and CCSB put the Social Democrats (PSD) at 35 percent to 36 percent of respondents.
“We have earned the victory in this election,” PSD leader Mircea Geoana said. “Romania can’t continue like it has.”
The center-right Democratic Liberals (PDL) of Romanian President President Traian Basescu were at 30 percent to 31 percent, pushing the National Liberals (PNL) into third place with about 20 percent in each chamber, the surveys showed.
With the Social Democrats well short of a majority, PDL leader Emil Boc described the election as a “victory” for the right, with his party and the PNL combined possibly above 50 percent.
With vote counting under way, the first official results were expected yesterday.
Voter turnout was reported at 39.26 percent, the lowest in Romania since the fall of communism.
The PSD had promised welfare handouts and tax cuts for the poorest, tapping into fears about the impact of the global financial crisis and wealth disparities to make a late comeback after itself suffering sleaze scandals.
To form a government, the PSD will have to wrestle with the PDL, which benefits from close links with the president, who nominates the prime minister under Romanian law. This leaves the Liberals as the potential kingmakers in coalition talks.
Sunday’s win boosted the PSD’s chances of returning to power after four years in opposition, but a coalition of the Democrats and Liberals, who have a majority together, is also possible.
“Everybody is going to play hardball so we may see a lot of instability ahead,” said Alina Mungiu-Pippidi of the Romanian Academic Society think tank.
“There is quite an important chance the PSD will get into the next government. For fighting corruption, the situation is pretty bad,” she said.
The PSD government in 2000 to 2004 was widely accused of allowing corruption to fester. Several of its top politicians have been indicted on graft charges but trials have been blocked by parliament or mired in court proceedings.
Romania, a country of 22 million, joined the EU thanks to economic and judiciary reforms introduced by a coalition of Tariceanu’s and Basescu’s parties after years of Socialist rule weakened by graft and reform gridlock.
But a clash between the prime minister and the president shattered the partnership after EU accession. Reform momentum slowed and parliament blunted anti-corruption efforts, angering the EU. Tariceanu remained at the head of a minority government.