14th Dec 2018

Romanian president holds narrow lead after first round

  • Incumbent President Traian Basescu secured pole position in the first round of the presidential elections (Photo:

Romania's incumbent president, Traian Basescu, secured a narrow win over his main rival in Sunday's (22 November) election, paving the way for a functional government after a run-off on 6 December.

Over two thousand voters queued up at the Romanian embassy in Brussels on Sunday, resisting rain and even a brief shower of hail. "I've been standing here for more than an hour. I will not give up now. It's my first vote," a 19-year old student told this website. Turnout was on average double among the Romanian communities abroad, compared to the last poll taking place earlier this year, for the European Parliament.

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Electoral participation was unexpectedly high in the country itself, with over half of the 18 million voters showing up to the polls. Yet none of the candidates won more than 50 percent of ballots, with a run-off to take place, as expected, on 6 December.

Early results released Monday morning showed incumbent centre-right president Traian Basescu in the lead, with 32.8 percent, followed by centre-left opposition leader Mircea Geoana with 29.1 percent. Liberal candidate Crin Antonescu received 20 percent, which turns him into a king-maker on 6 December. Following exit polls on Sunday night, both Mr Basescu and Mr Geoana wooed the mostly young, urban electorate of Mr Antonescu and promoted the merits of their governing coalition with the Liberals.

The December vote will be instrumental in finally getting a functional government in place, after a broad centre-right and centre-left coalition collapsed in early October.

The caretaker government of centre-right leader Emil Boc does not have the legal means to pass reforms or the 2010 budget, both conditions required by international lenders. Earlier this year, Romania signed up to a €20 billion aid package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Commission and the World Bank. Last month, the institutions postponed the payment of the next slice of the loan until after elections.

Both outgoing Prime Minister Emil Boc, whose Democratic-Liberal Party (PDL) has supported Mr Basescu in the elections, as well as Mr Geoana's Social Democrats have promised to fulfill the IMF requirements.

But Mr Antonescu wants to see taxes slashed next year, a measure which would run counter the lenders' requests.

Another surprise of the Sunday vote was a non-binding referendum called by Mr Basescu alongside with the presidential vote asking if Romanians want a uni-cameral Parliament and proposing to cut the number of parliamentarians from 471 to 300. Over 88 percent of the voters said Yes to the cut and 77 percent approved scrapping one of the chambers. Another referendum will be needed, however, to enact the move, as it entails changes to the constitution.

The plebiscite gives a boost to Mr Basescu's camp, which has been constantly under attack in most media, which rallied behind his rivals.

"My biggest joy and satisfaction is the fact that the some 80 percent of voters have said Yes to both questions put in the referendum," Mr Basescu told supporters on Sunday night.

Both he and Mr Geoana called the result a "first step" towards victory on 6 December.

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