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Presidential rivals head to runoff in Romania

President Traian Basescu will compete in a runoff election with former foreign minister Mircea Geoana on Dec. 6. President Traian Basescu will compete in a runoff election with former foreign minister Mircea Geoana on Dec. 6.
Associated Press / November 23, 2009

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BUCHAREST - A presidential election aimed at helping Romania emerge from a political and economic crisis failed to produce a winner yesterday, and the top two candidates will compete in a runoff next month, according to two exit polls.

If the exit polls are confirmed by official results today, President Traian Basescu, 58, will face Mircea Geoana, 51, the former foreign minister, in the runoff on Dec. 6.

One exit poll said Basescu, a centrist, won 34.1 percent of the votes, compared with 30.9 percent for Geoana, a socialist. The other said Basescu won 32.8 percent, compared with 31.7 percent for Geoana. Conservative opposition leader Crin Antonescu polled about 21 percent, finishing third in an election featuring a dozen candidates

Romania’s government collapsed last month amid squabbling between the two-party coalition, and the International Monetary Fund has delayed access to a $2 billion bailout loan while the country struggles to set up a new government.

A president is key to reviving the government because he nominates a prime minister, whom Parliament must then approve and who would be responsible for forming a new coalition.

Reports of possible fraud in the election emerged as far more people than normal cast ballots at 3,500 special voting centers that were set up for Romanians who need to vote outside their area of residence because they are traveling.

The Electoral Committee said more than 430,000 people voted at such locations, and witnesses alleged that some were being bused there after already having cast ballots elsewhere. For instance, Economy Minister Adriean Videanu called for a halt to “electoral tourism’’ in Moara Vlasie, near Bucharest, saying election authorities there were overwhelmed.

Basescu and Geoana called the election one of the most important votes in Romania since 1989 and the fall of communism.

Basescu, who is running for a second five-year term as president, said the exit polls appeared to indicate that conservatives were growing in power in Romania.