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Romania's ruling coalition wins landslide victory
by Staff Writers
Bucharest (AFP) Dec 09, 2012

Romania's centre-left governing coalition won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections Sunday, exit polls showed, dealing a severe blow to its arch-rival, centre-right President Traian Basescu.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta said he was ready to lead the next government of the EU newest member-State.

The Social-Liberal Union (USL) headed by Ponta, in power since May, took 57 percent of the ballot, exit polls broadcast by several televisions showed.

The Right Romania Alliance (ARD), which comprises parties close to Basescu's camp, trailed far behind on 19 percent, according to the exit poll.

"This is a victory against the regime of President Traian Basescu", USL co-president Crin Antonescu told reporters.

"We won the largest victory since 1990", after the fall of the Communist dictatorship, he added.

"I am ready to lead the next government", Ponta told supporters in his constituency of Targu Jiu, in southwestern Romania.

"The sole orientation of the government I will lead will be pro-European and pro-NATO. The future of Romania lies in the European family", he stressed.

Ponta and his USL coalition earned sharp rebukes from the European Union and the United States in mid-2012 after they attempted to unseat Basescu.

The president accused the USL leaders of driving the country away from the EU, which it joined in 2007.

But despite its large victory, the USL will now be forced to share power with Basescu, whose term runs until 2014.

After months of bitter feuding, Ponta said that "Romania now needs a period of calm".

"We need to overcome political fights, hatred and revenge", he said.

Basescu did not react on Sunday. He will be travelling to Oslo on Monday to collect the Nobel peace prize together with other European leaders.

The former sea captain has repeatedly hinted he could refuse to re-appoint Ponta as prime minister, describing him as a "mythomaniac".

That position, which many analysts regard as an "abuse of power", could earn him a new suspension, the USL warned.

"Romania's foreign partners expect political leaders to observe the voters' will," Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean said.

Analysts and investors have called for political stability as Romania, the EU's second-poorest member after Bulgaria, is struggling 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 elsewhere.

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

Romania hopes to negotiate a new deal with the 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 is surfing a wave of discontent over the centre-right's four years in power, marked by a bitter austerity package and 25-percent cuts in public sector wages.

"I voted for the USL because Romania needs a change," said Mihai, a 31-year-old military police officer as he left a Bucharest polling station. "The previous centre-right governments were too dishonest."

Despite the fact that it has only held power since May, many voters see the USL as the party of change because it has promised to roll back austerity cuts.

"It's time to change the political class," said Florentin Kovacs, a 45-year-old engineer who braved heavy snowfall in Timisoara to vote.

"Those who were in power until recently have disappointed me, that is why with my whole family we will vote to end theft and amateurism in this country."

Populist millionnaire Dan Diaconescu, who hoped to tap into voters' disenchantment with traditional parties, seemed to have lost the race against Ponta for a deputy seat in the southwestern constituency of Targu Jiu.

But his party arrived third with around 12 percent of the ballot, exit polls showed.

The first official results were not expected until Monday.


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