Romanians vote for mayors in ballot overshadowed by graft

AP News
|
Posted: Jun 05, 2016 5:48 PM
Romanians vote for mayors in ballot overshadowed by graft

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romanians voted Sunday for local officials in administrations that are plagued with corruption.

Three exit polls showed that Gabriela Firea, a former TV journalist and member of the center-left Social Democratic Party, had easily won the post of Bucharest mayor, receiving about 41 percent of the vote.

Social Democratic Party chairman Liviu Dragnea, who was handed a two-year suspended sentence in April for attempting to rig a 2012 referendum on the impeachment of Romania's former president, handed her three red roses after the poll results were published. Firea said she would have "zero tolerance" for corruption and wanted to attract more investment for Bucharest.

The same polls showed the runner-up was Nicusor Dan, a mathematician who ran on an anti-corruption ticket, who had about 29 percent.

In Bucharest, the former city mayor and five out of six district mayors elected in 2012 have been convicted or are being investigated on graft charges. Two are running to win their districts again this year.

Preliminary results are expected later and final results are expected Monday. Final voter turnout in Bucharest was just over 33 percent, according to election authorities.

Bucharest, a city of more than 2 million, had the largest local budget this year of 4.1 billion Romanian lei ($1.01 billion).

Polls closed at 9 p.m. (1800 GMT). At 8 p.m. (1700 GMT), some 46.2 percent of the electorate of 18.3 million had voted, election authorities said.

Romania has launched a major drive against corruption in the last few years and its anti-corruption agency successfully prosecuted 1,250 cases, including a former prime minister and five former ministers, its best performance ever.

According to Romania's anti-corruption prosecutors' office, more than 100 mayors, deputy mayors, county council presidents and vice presidents were indicted for corruption in 2015.

However, people who have been indicted of corruption but haven't been convicted aren't excluded from running for office.

The mayor of the northwest city of Baia Mare, Catalin Chereches, currently in jail pending trial on charges that he illicitly obtained money from a local soccer club, was apparently re-elected with about 70 percent of the vote, exit polls showed.

Ion Gavrila, a security officer guarding an ornate white office building in downtown Bucharest, said he was disillusioned with the candidates running for office.

"There are five out of six who are suspected of corruption in Bucharest. Who should I vote for? The problem is that once people get into office, they steal," he said.

The current mayor of the city of Brasov, George Scripcaru, is running for a fourth term. He was arrested in 2015 for abuse of office, on suspicion of taking kickbacks from energy contracts and accepting bribes. He denies wrongdoing.

A deputy chairman of Romania's main Social Democratic Party, Lia Olguta Vasilescu, is running for a second term as mayor of Craiova, Romania's sixth-largest city. She has been indicted on suspicion of bribery, using her authority or influence to obtain money or other goods and for money laundering. She denies wrongdoing.

It is the first ballot after the Colectiv nightclub fire in Bucharest where 64 people died in October 2015. The fire was blamed on safety officials who ignored violations of fire regulations. Former Premier Victor Ponta resigned following protests after the fire.

___

Previous versions of this story corrected the surname of the Bucharest mayoral runner-up to Dan, not Stan, and to show that five out of six district mayors elected in 2012, not six out of seven, have been convicted or are being investigated on graft charges.