Basescu headed for victory in Romania runoff

AP News
Posted: Dec 07, 2009 5:37 AM

Incumbent President Traian Basescu was headed for victory in a tight presidential runoff in Romania, election authorities said Monday, in a race Romanians hope will pull the country out of its worst political and economic crisis in 20 years.

With 99.13 percent of the vote counted, election authorities said centrist Basescu polled 50.37 percent of the vote, while former foreign minister Mircea Geoana received 49.62 percent. Geoana's allies alleged the results may have been rigged, and his Social Democrats said they were doing a parallel count.

The tally comes after a night of uncertainty. Both Basescu and Geoana claimed victory late Sunday after polls closed, and three exit polls gave the left-leaning Geoana a slight lead.

Final results are expected later Monday.

Geoana, a leader of the Social Democrats who has branded himself a unifier and team builder, had declared himself the winner Sunday, calling exit poll results "a victory for normalcy, a victory for decency, for all citizens who want a better life."

But Basescu claimed the exit polls were deceptive.

"You will see the manipulations on the television stations . . . Today you can trust me fully when I tell you I won," he said.

There was no immediate reaction early Monday from either candidate to the official results.

Klaus Johannis, the mayor of the city of Sibiu _ who Geoana had said he would appoint prime minister if he won the race _ appeared to concede defeat early Monday. "It seems this chapter is closed. I won't be coming to Bucharest any longer."

Adriean Videanu, a senior member of the Democratic Liberals who supported Basescu, said "Basescu is the new president of Romania. He won with his ally, the Romanian citizen. They defeated the greatest ever alliance against them" since communism was overthrown.

But Geoana aide, Cosmin Gusa, accused Basescu of cheating. "He and his people did what they know best_ rigging (the election)."

Former Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, who ran for president against Basescu in 2004, also said he believed there may have been cheating. "I am inclined to believe that accusations of fraud are founded," and I will discuss this with my party colleagues, he said before heading into a meeting of the Social Democrats.

Former President Ion Iliescu called the results "suspect" and said there were "many reports" of many irregularities.

The interior ministry said 200 irregularities were reported and two people were detained for attempting to offer incentives in exchange for a vote. Representatives of four parties supporting Mircea Geoana outside Romania refused to sign off on the vote count, alleging multiple voting, and claiming incentives were offered to people for their vote in Spain, Italy and Moldova.

Electoral judge Mircea Moldovan said Traian Basescu won over 78 percent to Geoana's 21 percent from Romanians voting abroad.

There were also reports of irregularities in Romania's 3,300 special polling stations where 617,000 people voted.

The country faces skyrocketing unemployment and a limping government since the ruling coalition fell apart two months ago amid party squabbling.

Romania is seeking to unlock a euro1.5 billion ($2 billion) International Monetary Fund bailout loan to pull it out of its deep recession but is unlikely to get one this year due to its political instability.

Basescu, 58, had seen his popularity drop this year due to the economic downturn and political feuding, but still enjoys support, especially in rural areas and among the working class. He is a formidable fighter, feuding bitterly with all the political parties in recent years except for the Liberal Democrats he used to lead.

He argues that he will modernize and reform Romania, saying much of the economy is under the control of corrupt oligarchs and media moguls with whom he links Geoana, a charge that has resonated with voters amid Romania's economic woes.

Geoana, 51, who served as Romania's ambassador to the U.S. and then as foreign minister, heads the Social Democratic Party, the successor to the Communist Party that ruled for more than 40 years until the 1989 anti-communist revolt.

He styles himself as a modern Social Democrat, with former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair his political role models. He lacks Basescu's popular appeal but is seen as a clever negotiator.

Geoana polled slightly lower than Basescu in the first round but was ahead in the most recent opinion poll after getting support from conservative rival Crin Antonescu, who won 20 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential race.