Romanian elections overshadowed by financial crisis

Romanian elections overshadowed by financial crisisBucharest  - Romania is facing a protracted tug-of-war over the formation of a new government, with parliamentary elections scheduled for November 30. The global financial crisis, which is already costing jobs in the new EU member state, is likely to play a role.

Opinion polls show insufficient support for any one party to rule

alone. The only apparent certainty is that Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu, leader of the National Liberal Party (PNL) will be voted out of office. His party can expect to come third at best.

Crucially, Tariceanu can no longer count on the support of President Traian Basescu, a former ally who has turned bitter political rival.

According to opinion polls, the strongest party will be the centre-right Democratic Liberal Party (PD-L) founded by Basescu, which can expect between 34.7 and 36.6 per cent of the vote. The PD-L could propose the current EU-parliamentarian Teodor Stolojan as prime minister, a post he previously held in 1991-92.

The Social Democratic Party (PSD) can expect 31.7 to 31.9 per cent of the vote, placing the party of top candidate Mircea Geoana in second position. Tariceanu's party, the PNL, is predicted 17.5 to 20 per cent.

At present, the only likely coalition partners are the PNL and PSD. The socialists have informally supported the prime minister's party, which is ruling without a secure parliamentary majority. A coalition between Basescu's PD-L and Tariceanu's PNL is ruled out, since PD-L was formed by a renegade faction of the PNL, riding on an anti-Tariceanu ticket.

The likely conflict over the formation of a government has also been stoked by Basescu's ebullient declaration that no party can force his hand in selecting a prime minister. In Romania, the prime minister is chosen by parliament, on recommendation of the head of state. The nomination process doesn't require the president to take individual party recommendations into account.

Many Romanian media commentators think that any government will be short-lived, since the financial crisis will force them to take unpopular measures. A pro-Basescu lead article in the daily Romania Libera newspaper even suggested that the president should avoid nominating a premier from the PD-L, in order to protect his party from a collapse in popularity.

This could be a valid consideration, since Basescu faces re- election in next year's presidential vote. Opinion polls still show Basescu to be Romania's most popular politician, with 48 per cent of the vote, however this is a drop from the levels of support at the start of his mandate in 2004.

In Romania, the global financial crisis is expected to cost 30,000 jobs by the end of the year, according to the department of labour in Bucharest. In export-driven light industry, a drop in orders has already led to thousands of job losses in recent weeks. Car manufacturers Ford in the city of Craiova and Renault in Pitesti have repeatedly put production on hold for several days.

This year, Romania is expecting a record gross domestic product growth of 9.1 per cent, following an eight-year economic boom. However, a collapse is assured for 2009. Romania's central bank adjusted its growth prognosis for 2009 from 6 per cent down to 4.6 per cent.

A new voting law gives Romania's 18 million voters the opportunity to vote directly for candidates, rather than for a party list. The aim of this reform was to rejuvenate Romania's political class, generally decried as corrupt and incompetent.

It remains to be seen how well these changes go down with voters. Many observers think Romanians have lost interest in the political infighting between Basescu and Tariceanu, and therefore predict low turnout at the polls. (dpa)