Romania's court orders void votes re-examined

AP News
Posted: Dec 11, 2009 2:42 PM

Romania's Constitutional Court ordered a re-examination of voided ballots from the country's disputed presidential election, prolonging months of political uncertainty.

Analysts predicted, however, that the ruling was not likely to lead to a new vote.

The court ordered election officials to look at whether some 138,000 ballots were improperly declared void. Center-left former Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana lost by a margin of just 70,000 votes to incumbent centrist President Traian Basescu, garnering 49.7 percent to Basescu's by 50.3 percent.

Geoana says his Social Democratic Party has evidence of ballot stuffing, multiple voting and widespread vote-buying, and has asked for new elections to be held.

The Constitutional Court will decide after the reexamination whether it will validate the election results or order a repeat of the vote.

Some analysts predicted that the court would not overturn the election because it could harm Romania's image as a new member of the European Union by showing that the authorities rigged the vote.

Still, Basescu and the Social Democrats praised the ruling and analysts said it showed the court took the allegations of fraud seriously.

"It is a resolution that makes everyone happy. It is a nod to the president and the opposition thinks there is an independent justice system. But nothing really changes; the uncertainty continues," said Emil Hurezeanu, a political analyst.

The Social Democratic spokesman Bogdan Niculescu Duvaz said the decision was "a good step in clarifying the fraud in elections." Duvaz called for recount of the 140,000 votes cast abroad where Basescu scored about 80 percent to Geoana's 20 percent. Duvaz alleged that consulates abroad were fabricating data to support the results.

A member of the party, lawmaker Catalin Voicu, was briefly detained early Friday near his home by an anti-corruption brigade, the party said. Voicu was later released and said he was detained for reasons unconnected to the elections.

The instability led the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to freeze a multibillion-euro loan until a new government is in place. The IMF will arrive in Bucharest next week for talks with the interim Finance Minister Gheorghe Pogea and other officials about the 2010 budget.

Uncertainty over the election results only exacerbates Romania's ills. The country is facing a severe economic downturn and has been mired in political instability since a Parliamentary no-confidence vote toppled the government in October.