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Europe

Round Two in Romanian Presidential Ballot

These are important days for the future of Romania. Not only has the EU agreed to conclude membership talks with Bucharest, but Sunday also sees the second round of presidential elections.

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Romanians take to the polls again on Sunday

As incumbent Romanian president, Ion Iliescu steps down after almost 15 years in office, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, leader of the ex-communist Social Democrats (PSD) is locked in battle with Traian Basescu, the mayor of Bucarest and leader of an opposition centrist alliance of liberals and democrats for the highest office in the land.

Wahlen Rumänien Traian Basescu Präsidentschaftskandidat

Bucharest Mayor and presidential candidate, Traian Basescu

The first round of polls in what is the most hotly contested ballot in post-communist Romania, were inconclusive with neither candidate achieving a clear majority. Nastase emerged slightly ahead of Basescu, sparking the latter to accuse him of poll-rigging Ukrainian style.

In the first instance, Nastase rejected the accusations, but later said that the "small irregularities" which had occurred did not substantially affect the outcome of the ballot. The prime minister subsequently accused his challenger of trying to incite unrest amongst the population.

But Basescu did not call for the Romanian people to take to the streets in protest. Instead, he has been waiting to see the results of the second round.

Low voter turnout

Statistics from the central election office have shown that only 11 million of the 18 million people entitled to vote actually cast a ballot, with the highest number of those who didn't coming from the characteristically pro-European western part of the country.

Instead of being considered a show of voter apathy, the low turnout has been generally judged as a form of silent protest at opposition party candidate Basescu, whose communist background was recently exposed. The information came as a blow to many intellectuals, who now consider him as nothing grander than the "lesser of two evils."

Both candidates have been courting the Hungarian party, UDMR, which traditionally receives the backing of the Hungarian minority. But the courtships came to an official end when the party called on its supporters to back Prime Minister Nastase in the ballot. But those 8 percent won't necessarily tip the balance.

"One should not consider the Hungarian voters as one block. Sociologists have established that the Hungarian minority is divided. The Hungarians from the center of Rumania are more likely to listen to the Hungarian party, whereas the Hungarian minority in the west of the country is more self-contained and tends to support liberal, pro-western policies," political analyst Emil Hurezeanu told Deutsche Welle.

"So it is not the decisions of the Hungarian party which count, but the mobilization of that half of the population that didn't turn out to vote the first time round."

The path to European integration

Wahlen Rumänien Premierminister Adrian Nastase

Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase

Whoever wins after the Sunday ballot will be focussed on leading Romania into the arms of the European Union in 2007, and with that in mind, the two candidates are running with similar policies promising to tackle corruption and secure the independence of the justice system.

In his campaign, Nastase has claimed to be in the throes of introducing a reform process, suggesting voters should vote for him and opt for continuity.

"Romania genuinely does need the continuity of a pro-West integration policy, but is that really in keeping with Adrain Nastase's policies?" Hurezeanu said.

There is no foregone conclusion for Sunday's elections quite simply because nobody can estimate how many first round non-voters will make use of their right to cast a ballot.

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