Romanian government sweeps parliamentary elections, but power struggle not over

Political feuding between Romania's top leaders could harm its reputation as a functioning democracy and deter foreign investment.

By , Associated Press

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    Romania's President Traian Basescu, left, exits a voting cabin as his wife Maria, right, stands by, in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012. Millions of Romanians braved rain and snow Sunday as they went to the polls for a parliamentary election that center-left government is expected to win a, but the result could lead to more of the political instability that has plagued the impoverished Balkan nation this year.
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Romania's government swept to victory in parliamentary elections, near final results showed Monday, but it was uncertain whether the convincing win would bring stability and defuse a rancorous political rivalry between the country's top two leaders.

The center-left alliance led by Prime Minister Victor Ponta won nearly three-fifths of the seats in the legislature, trouncing President Traian Basescu's allies, with 95 percent of the vote counted.

Many Romanians are fed up with a power struggle between Mr. Basescu and Mr. Ponta and are desperate for political calm after a year of upheaval. The country has run through three prime ministers and Cabinets this year and endured huge protests against austerity measures imposed in return for a €20-million ($26-million) bailout to help its foundering economy.

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Continued political feuding could harm Romania's reputation as a functioning democracy abroad and create an atmosphere of instability that would deter much needed foreign investment.

"We won a clear majority, a majority recognized by our adversaries who have to accept the rules of democracy," Ponta said after polls closed Sunday. "I assure them we will treat the opposition with the respect that we did not get when we were in opposition."

Ponta attempted unsuccessfully to impeach Basescu this year, describing him as a divisive figure who has overstepped his role as president by meddling in government business, and earning criticism by the European Union and Washington for failing to respect the rule of law.

In return, Basescu has threatened to wield his power to appoint the prime minister — which theoretically is a formality — by withholding his blessing. However, it looked unlikely Monday that Basescu had the political capital to stick to his threat, given the strong victory by his rival's alliance.

Basescu could nominate someone else, but his choice would have to be approved by Parliament. If his candidate was rejected, Parliament could be dissolved and new elections called.

The government has threatened to move to impeach Basescu again if he refuses to nominate Ponta.

Election official Marian Muhulet said Basescu's group won less than 17 percent. A populist party led by a media tycoon scored about 14 percent and an ethnic Hungarian party won just over 5 percent. Other parties did not get the minimum 5 percent.

Basescu's allies in government grew unpopular due to harsh austerity measures and allegations of cronyism. Ponta was appointed prime minister in May after they lost public confidence — making him the third prime minister this year.

Ponta restored most pensions and salaries that were slashed as part of the bailout loan agreement, but has largely continued the policies of the previous Basescu-allied governments, including a 24 percent sales tax, one of the highest in the European Union.

The job of prime minister entails running the country and distributing public finances, while the president names the chiefs of the influential intelligence services, appoints ambassadors and chairs the country's top defense body, the Supreme Defense Council.

Since his election as president in 2004 and re-election in 2009, Basescu has represented Romania at the EU and other international summits, which has caused friction with Ponta.

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