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Social Democrats ahead in general election

Exit polls put Romania's left-wing Social Democrats (PSD) ahead in Sunday's general election, with over a third of the vote. Carried by fears about the impact of the financial crisis, the PSD will face tough negotiations to find a coalition partner.

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Reuters  -  Romania's opposition Social Democrat Party (PSD) appeared to have won Sunday's parliamentary election, acording to exit polls, reducing chances for a revival of EU-mandated anti-corruption reforms if it manages to form a government.

The PSD tapped into many Romanians' fears about the impact of the global financial crisis and wealth disparities to make a last-minute comeback after itself suffering sleaze scandals. It promised welfare handouts and tax cuts for the poorest.

Two exit polls, one by private Realitatea TV and one by the public TVR 1, showed the PSD, heirs to Romania's communist regime overthrown in a bloody 1989 revolt, capturing 36-37 percent of the vote.

Another opposition group, the Democrat Liberal Party (PD-L), a centrist grouping linked to President Traian Basescu, won 30-31 percent, while Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu's Liberal Party (PNL) was third on 20 percent.

To form a government, the PSD will have to wrestle with the PD-L, which benefits from close links with the president, who nominates the prime minister under Romanian law.

Sunday's win boosts its chances of returning to power after four years in opposition; but a coalition between the Democrats and Liberals, who have majority together, is also possible.

"Everybody is going to play hardball so we may see a lot of instability ahead," said Alina Mungiu Pippidi of the Romanian Academic Society think tank.

"There is quite an important chance the PSD will get into the next government. For fighting corruption, the situation is pretty bad," she said.

The PSD government in 2000-2004 was widely accused of allowing corruption to fester. Several of its top politicians have been indicted on graft charges but trials have been blocked by parliament or mired in court proceedings.


Tough coalition talks

The prospects of tough coalition talks and a PSD government also bode ill for efforts to insulate its economy from financial
crisis, economists said.

They say both main parties see higher government spending as a way out, although the centrist PD-L is less likely to allow the debt burden to balloon.

The European Union has criticised continued corruption and organised crime in Romania, a country of 22 million which joined the bloc along with neighbouring Bulgaria in 2007. The European Commission has called for stronger courts and efficient administrative systems to combat the problem.

Bucharest has undertaken some reforms but critics argue they are far from sufficient to tackle the scourge of corruption in business and political life.
 

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