Romanians size up parties in municipal elections

Romanians voted for thousands of town mayors and county council members on Sunday in an election seen as a gauge of popularity for major political parties ahead of a parliamentary ballot due late this year.

Romanians size up parties in municipal elections
Polls opened at 7 a.m. local time (0400 GMT) and are due close at 9 p.m. Exit polls published after closing time will focus on key races in major cities only. Results are expected on Monday, ahead of a runoff date on June 15.

A strong showing for the ruling Liberal party (PNL) or the opposition could give them ammunition to negotiate coalition arrangements for after the national election.

Several options for future partnerships appear possible with no party holding enough public support to govern alone and the minority government of Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu struggling in opinion polls.

"I haven't seen the parties shutting the door in each others' faces," said one European diplomat in Bucharest.

Tariceanu's PNL might take only 11 to 14 percent on Sunday, pollsters say, because of voters' frustration with its efforts to combat widespread poverty and corruption.

Many Romanians have pinned their hopes for higher living standards and less graft on the prime minister, who swept to power in 2004 on a promise to fight corruption, modernise the economy and attract foreign investment.

But after a strong start, reforms lost momentum after Romania joined the European Union in 2007 and Tariceanu's coalition with President Traian Basescu turned into a fight over policies and personal preferences.

The centrists liberalised the economy and oversaw robust economic expansion and fast wage growth. But their progress in fighting graft has been crippled by resistance across the political spectrum, observers say.

Top level corruption dominated debates throughout the election campaign as candidates tossed accusations of abuse against opponents and local media combed ballots for officials with graft convictions.

In coming months, Tariceanu's Liberals may try to rebuild their partnership with Basescu's centrist grouping, the Democrat Liberal Party, which is likely to garner nearly 40 percent of the vote on Sunday, pollsters say, as it rides on Basescu's popularity. "The election might bring ... a relaunching of the complicated process to rebuild the (centrist) alliance," commentator Mircea Marian wrote in Evenimentul Zilei daily.

"After June 15, the Democrats prepare to make the Liberals an offer for long-term cooperation."

But others say the Liberal party could strike a coalition deal after the general election with the ex-communist Social Democrat Party (PSD), which is also struggling in the polls and which has given the government tacit support in parliament.

Following sleaze scandals that shaved a third of its popularity, the PSD is inching back in the polls.

The party, whose 2000-2004 government was criticised for allowing corruption to fester, is expected to take between 28 and 30 percent in Sunday's vote, according to pollster CURS.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 01 Haziran 2008, 15:11