Romania election: Social Democrats headed for victory

Exit polls show strong lead for party ousted following corruption scandal a year ago

An elderly woman prepares to cast her ballot  in Sintesti, near Bucharest. Photograph: Bogdan Cristel/EPA

An elderly woman prepares to cast her ballot in Sintesti, near Bucharest. Photograph: Bogdan Cristel/EPA

 

Romania’s Social Democrats (PSD) overcame corruption scandals to secure a strong victory in Sunday’s parliamentary election, exit polls suggest.

Two polls gave the leftist PSD about 45 per cent of votes, ahead of the centre-right National Liberals (PNL) on about 21 per cent and a new anti-corruption party called the Save Romania Union (USR) on about 9 per cent.

The PSD could seek to forge a parliamentary majority with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, which took some 6 per cent of votes according to exit polls.

The election took place 13 months after a PSD government resigned amid major street protests, triggered by a fire at a nightclub in Romania’s capital, Bucharest, which killed 64 people.

Bribes

Many Romanians saw the blaze at the Colectiv club as a consequence of the corruption that blights the country, with officials suspected of taking bribes to give permits and overlook breaches of safety rules. It has also been alleged that poor medical care in dilapidated hospitals may have contributed to the high death toll.

A government of technocrats guided Romania through to the elections led by prime minister Dacian Ciolos, a former European commissioner whom the PNL and USR have said they would be happy to see continue as premier.

The PSD wants to replace him, but at least two of its most prominent members are barred from the premiership due to legal travails – party leader Liviu Dragnea was convicted of voter fraud in a 2012 referendum and ex-prime minister Victor Ponta is on trial for alleged tax evasion and money laundering.

The PSD has pledged to boost state wages and benefits, and cut bureaucracy and the budgets of several ministries.

“I voted so Romanians have more in their pockets, for higher salaries and pensions and lower taxes, to support businesses, and for young people to buy a home,” Mr Dragnea said on Sunday.

Mr Ciolos criticised the PSD’s election promises as “superficial” and “populist”, and called instead for continued budgetary discipline.

Romania’s election campaign was free from strident nationalist or anti-European Union messages, in contrast to recent ballots in other countries.

Pro-EU

“There is agreement among the main parties and most smaller parties that it is in Romania’s interest to be a predictable, stable, pro-EU country,” said Andrei Tarnea, executive director of the Aspen Institute think tank in Bucharest.

Some Romanians fear the country’s powerful anti-corruption directorate, known as the DNA, could come under pressure from a PSD government, given that the agency has prosecuted many powerful people connected to the party.

“In theory the elections shouldn’t affect us in any way,” the DNA’s chief prosecutor, Laura Codruta Kovesi, told The Irish Times last week.

“But . . . as long as people who have been investigated by us or convicted in our cases keep their same jobs and positions, and could influence the legislative process, then danger exists.

“If tomorrow, we are no longer allowed to investigate certain crimes or certain people, or the DNA is reorganised, then of course its efficiency will be affected.”