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Exit polls in key Romanian elections are showing a likely win for the ruling Social Democrats. But as in Ukraine, the opposition has demanded an investigation into voting irregularities.
Apparent victor: Adrian Nastase celebrates amid rumors of fraud
The ruling ex-communists appear to have taken the lead in both presidential and parliamentary elections in Romania. The Balkan nation is aiming to join the European Union in 2007.
In the presidential election, exit polls Sunday showed departing Prime Minister Adrian Nastase the front runner, with around 41 percent of the vote, to replace outgoing president Ion Iliescu.
But because he failed to win outright, Nastase will take on center-right candidate Traian Basescu of the "Justice and Truth" alliance in a run-off election on December 12. Basescu won between 35 and 38 percent of the vote.
Charges of fraud
In parliamentary elections, polls showed Nastase's Social Democrat (PSD) party candidates in the lead with nearly 40 percent of the vote. Center-right opposition candidates took 35 percent of the vote.
However, charges of voting irregularities almost immediately rang through the country, echoing accusations in neighboring Ukraine, which has been rocked for the past week by growing street protests against alleged election rigging.
Romania's main civil rights group said it was pulling thousands of observers out of the Romanian
presidential election after being submerged by an avalanche of fraud allegations. With nearly half of the votes counted after the first round of the election, the Pro Democracia rights organization said it was pulling its observers out of the second round because of the "numerous frauds" recorded in the first.
Christian Parvulescu, president of the organization, told the AFP news agence that the pullout was intended to "protest the failings of the Romanian electoral system." As in Ukraine, Pro Democracia said the ruling party had resorted to widescale vote rigging.
Romanian police recruits wait to enter a voting station at a military unit near Bucharest, Romania Sunday Nov. 28, 2004.
Basescu estimated that up to five percent of the votes cast Sunday had been fraudulent, and appealed to Nastase to make sure voting is fair in the run-off. Otherwise, he warned, Romania would jeopardize its chances of joining the European Union.
"I call publicly on Mr Nastase to ensure the count is correct," he said in an interview on private Realitatea television.
Ioan Onisei, a senior official in Romania's Liberal-Democrat alliance, told Reuters news agency that the representatives on election committees across the country "have alerted the police about cases of fraud."
In the run-up to the election some analysts and Western diplomats expressed concern the ruling party may use its clout to tip the close contest.
Previous elections deemed fair
In terms of their political positions, the 54-year-old Nastase would likely continue the politics of his predecessor, Iliescu, wherease the 53-year-old Basescu and mayor of Bucharest is seen as representing a new direction.
The opposition candidate has urged voters to "rid Romania of the mafia-like, corrupt system which has governed it over
the past four years" and promised he would "work day and night to improve the lives of 22 million Romanians" if elected.
Start of a new era?
Despite different approaches, both politicians said they wish to lead the impoverished Balkan nation to EU membership in 2007 and retain the strong support of the United States.
The election of a new president in Romania signifies the end of an era. In three years, the country wants to join the European Union. The next president's job will be to dry up the country's rampant corruption and boost its ailing economy.
Currently, one in three Romanians live under the poverty level. Of the 44 percent of the country's voters who turned out for Sunday's poll, the majority said they hoped the future would bring relief from rampant corruption and poverty.