Both candidates claim to win Romania vote
Official tallies expected today in presidential race
BUCHAREST - Both candidates claimed victory in Romania’s presidential race yesterday, leaving the outcome uncertain in an election Romanians hope can pull the country out of its worst political and economic crisis in 20 years.
Three exit polls suggested that Mircea Geoana, the country’s left-leaning former foreign minister, was leading incumbent Traian Basescu with just over half the vote.
Geoana, a leader of the Social Democrats who has branded himself a unifier and team builder, declared himself the winner, calling the results of the exit polls “a victory for normalcy, a victory for decency for all citizens who want a better life.’’
But Basescu contended that the exit polls were deceptive. “You will see the manipulations on the television stations. . . . Today you can trust me fully when I tell you I won,’’ he said.
The first official vote tallies were expected today.
The Insomar opinion poll put Geoana at 51.6 percent of the vote and Basescu at 49.8 percent, with a margin of error of 1.5 percent. The Company for Research and Sociological Branding said Geoana won 51.6 percent to Basescu’s 48.4 percent. The CURS exit poll had Geoana with 50.8 percent and Basescu with 49.2 percent. No margins of error were available for those polls.
The Democratic Liberal party, which supports Basescu, said it had poll results showing him at 50.7 percent, to Geoana’s 49.3 percent. Both Basescu and Geoana urged calm amid reports there would be protests in the capital of Bucharest.
Turnout was high, at about 57 percent. The election, which has been marked by scandal and allegations of voter fraud, was seen as crucial to Romania, which is facing skyrocketing unemployment and a limping government since the ruling coalition fell apart two months ago amid party squabbling.
“We conclude 20 years since the end of communism. Today we end the transition. Starting from tomorrow we will go firmly toward Europe,’’ Geoana said. “We are committed to put an end to political crisis, and in a few days we will have a government . . . with an authentic plan to fight against the economic crisis.’’
Romania is seeking to unlock a $2 billion International Monetary Fund bailout loan to pull it out of its deep recession but is unlikely to get one this year due to its political instability.
Geoana, 51, who served as Romania’s ambassador to the United States and then as foreign minister, heads the Social Democratic Party, which is the successor to the Communist Party that ruled for more than 40 years, until the 1989 anticommunist revolt.
He styles himself as a modern Social Democrat, with former president Clinton and former prime minister Tony Blair of Britain his role models. He lacks Basescu’s popular appeal but is viewed as a clever negotiator.
Geoana polled slightly lower than Basescu in the first round but was ahead in the most recent opinion poll after getting support from conservative rival Crin Antonescu, who won 20 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential race.
Basescu’s image was also damaged after a video materialized of him appearing to punch a 10-year-old boy during an election rally in 2004.
Geoana contended that Basescu has fomented political instability and used Romania’s secret services to monitor his opponents.
Basescu, 58, had seen his popularity drop this year due to the economic downturn and political feuding, but still enjoys support, especially in rural areas and among the working class. He is a formidable fighter, feuding bitterly with all the political parties in recent years except for the Liberal Democrats he used to lead.