Fear of leadership stand-off after Romanians go to polls

President and Prime Minister are locked in a bitter dispute, vowing to get rid of each other

Exit polls showed the Romanian Government securing a clear
victory in parliamentary elections yesterday yet the ballot looked
unlikely to provide stability for a country consumed with bitter
political struggle.

The country's political system has been paralysed with the left-leaning prime minister, Victor Ponta, at odds with conservative president, Traian Bascescu.

Mr Ponta's governing alliance was expected to take 57 per cent of seats with Mr Basescu's group set to claim 18 per cent, according to a poll by the TVR television station. Full results are due to be released today – but even if Mr Ponta's party is confirmed as the outright winner, it is unclear whether Mr Basescu is willing to reappoint a man he despises as prime minister, which could provoke a dangerous stand-off.

Mr Basescu has previously vowed to never again make Mr Ponta prime minister, after the latter attempted to oust him from office during the summer. He has accused Mr Ponta of being a stooge for Russian interests, and yesterday portrayed the election as a choice between the US and the EU, and Russia.

"Look at the ambiguities we have created in the last seven months," said Mr Basescu, after voting. "We have declared war on Brussels, on European leaders."

New media legislation introduced in the run-up to the election by Mr Ponta's government caused alarm in Brussels, but in reality, Europe has become exasperated with both men, whose quarrel often seems to be as much about personalities as politics.

Mr Ponta tried and failed to impeach Mr Basescu in July, using tactics which were criticised by Western nations, and which worsened an already bitter feud between the two men. Mr Basescu has been president since 2004, but has been losing popularity with ordinary voters as the economic climate in the country has failed to improve.

It has been a turbulent political year for Romania, with a former prime minister, Adrian Nastase, found guilty of corruption charges, apparently attempting suicide when police attempted to enter his villa and seize him.

"All polling stations are open, the future of Romania is now in the hands of its people, I urge them to vote today," wrote Mr Ponta on his Twitter feed yesterday afternoon. "If opinion polls become reality, the USL will take this country forward and on to economic prosperity."

Romania joined the European Union in 2007, but has recently been in trouble both politically and economically, and remains one of the poorest countries in the EU. The turnout was low in the election, a result of both freezing weather and snowstorms, and of a general disillusionment with politics after a long period of infighting.

"I don't know who to vote for or why, so I don't intend to," Matei Daniel of Bucharest told Reuters. "There have been so many elections and nothing has changed."

If official results mirror the predictions, Mr Basescu will now be faced with a dilemma. Analysts say he may choose a less divisive figure from the USL instead of Mr Ponta. The next presidential election is not due until 2014, and the two forces may well have to continue uneasy cohabitation.

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