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Romania picks parliament



Bucharest:Romanians voted for a new parliament Sunday with the centre-left ruling coalition on course for a substantial victory, an outcome promising a bitter cohabitation with president Traian Basescu.

Prime minister Victor Ponta's Social-Liberal Union (USL), in power since May, is set to win between 48 to 61 percent of the ballot, opinion polls show.

This could give the USL a two-thirds majority in the 470-member parliament, allowing it to pass through constitutional changes.

The Right Romania Alliance (ARD), which gathers parties close to Basescu's camp, trails far behind the USL, with polls showing support of between 16 and 23 percent.
"We see another crisis looming", Jean-Michel de Waele, an Eastern Europe specialist at Bruxelles University told AFP.

It will be Romania's first national vote since a failed attempt by the ruling USL this summer to unseat centre-right Basescu -- a move that drew sharp rebukes from the European Union and the United States.

Concerned by pressure on the judiciary, both Washington and Brussels said Ponta's tactics had cast doubt on the former Communist dictatorship's democratic credentials.

Basescu retained his post when a referendum failed to meet the required turnout, but more than seven million people voted for his impeachment, angered by austerity cuts.

Tensions rose in the last days of the campaign as Basescu repeatedly hinted that he could refuse to re-appoint Ponta, whom he called a "mythomaniac", as prime minister, even if the USL wins the ballot.

"This would be a serious abuse of power," journalist Dan Tapalaga wrote in an editorial on the HotNews.ro website.

Ponta on Friday told supporters that the USL would bring Romanians "victory against Basescu".

Investors and economic analysts have warned against the risks of fresh political turbulence after the vote, as Romania, the EU's second-poorest member after Bulgaria, struggles to recover from one of Europe's most painful austerity drives.

The average monthly wage currently stands at 350 euros ($450) and about three million Romanians have emigrated looking for jobs and better living conditions.

"Without political stability, there will be no engine for growth," Romania's foreign investors council recently stressed.

This year, Romania has lived through street protests against Basescu and austerity in January, three different governments and the worst political crisis since the return of democracy, this summer.

Meanwhile, the 2012 growth forecast was revised to 0.7 percent from 1.7 percent.

Romania hopes to negotiate a new agreement with the International Monetary Funds (IMF) in the coming months after getting a 20-billion euro lifeline in 2009 and a five-billion-euro precautionary loan in 2011.

The USL has won voters' support by promising to roll back austerity measures imposed by the former centre-right government while keeping the deficit under control.

The opposition ARD, in power from 2008 until May 2012, is seen by voters as the main culprit for a drastic austerity programme that saw public wages cut by 25 percent.

"I will vote for the USL because we need a change. The others did not do anything good, some of their ministers were wearing expensive dresses while lots of people were struggling to get food", Georgeta, a greengrocer at Gemeni's market in the centre of Bucharest told AFP.

However she admits "not being sure that the USL will do better as none of our politicians care about the people but only about themselves".

Turnout is expected to be lower than 50 percent.

A populist millionnaire currently under trial for blackmail, Dan Diaconescu, hopes to tap into voters' disappointment with traditional parties.

Campaigning at the wheel of his white Rolls Royce, the TV-station owner promises 20,000 euros to every Romanian starting a new business.

In a country where corruption charges -- and convictions -- has not always barred candidates from running for office, Diaconescu has seen his PPDD party's popularity soar.
It is polling at around 14 percent.Exit polls will be released immediately ater the end of the vote. The first official results are not expected until Monday.

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