Ro­ma­nian left seeks come­back one year af­ter night­club fire

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ro­ma­ni­ans voted yes­ter­day in par­lia­men­tary elec­tions that are forecast to see the cor­rup­tion-tainted left stage a re­mark­able come­back, a year af­ter a deadly night­club fire forced them from of­fice. Mass protests af­ter the fire on Oc­to­ber 30, 2015 that claimed 64 lives-and which was blamed on cor­rup­tion-forced premier Vic­tor Ponta and his So­cial Democrats (PSD) to re­sign. But now, 13 months later, the PSD is ex­pected to be in pole po­si­tion to return to power, with pre-elec­tion opin­ion polls sug­gest­ing it will come first with around 40 per­cent of the vote.

It re­mains to be seen if it can form a ma­jor­ity govern­ment, how­ever. Much will de­pend on which of the smaller par­ties make it into par­lia­ment. The ri­val cen­treright Na­tional Lib­eral Party (PNL) and the Save Ro­ma­nia Union (USR, newly cre­ated by a math­e­ma­ti­cian-turned-ac­tivist, are seen gar­ner­ing a com­bined 35-40 per­cent. The Euro­pean Union’s sec­ond-poor­est coun­try has been run for the past year by a care­taker govern­ment un­der tech­no­crat Prime Min­is­ter Da­cian Ci­o­los, 47, a for­mer Euro­pean com­mis­sioner.

The PNL and the USR have said they would sup­port Ci­o­los stay­ing on. He is happy to do so but wants to re­main an in­de­pen­dent, vow­ing con­tin­ued bud­getary dis­ci­pline. But the PSD wants to in­stall in­stead party head Liviu Drag­nea, 54, as premier. How­ever, Drag­nea is serv­ing a sus­pended sen­tence for elec­toral fraud, which legally bars him from of­fice, while Pres­i­dent Klaus Io­han­nis, 57, has re­fused to ap­point any­one with le­gal prob­lems as premier. This would also ex­clude a come­back by Ponta, 44, cur­rently on trial-in fact he was al­ready in the dock as prime min­is­ter-for al­leged tax eva­sion and money laun­der­ing, charges he de­nies.

Bent of­fi­cials

The in­ferno in­side the Colec­tiv club was blamed on bent of­fi­cials turn­ing a blind eye to a lack of fire pre­cau­tions. Poor med­i­cal care ex­ac­er­bated the death toll. For many Ro­ma­ni­ans it was the fi­nal straw, and the tragedy prompted a push to clean Ro­ma­nia up. The Na­tional Anti-Cor­rup­tion Direc­torate (DNA) has been highly ac­tive and vis­i­ble, bring­ing min­is­ters, se­na­tors, law­mak­ers and other pub­lic of­fi­cials to jus­tice. A re­cent sur­vey sug­gested that 95 per­cent of Ro­ma­ni­ans want tack­ling cor­rup­tion to be a pri­or­ity for the next govern­ment But there are wor­ries this will not hap­pen if the PSD re­turns to power. The clean-up has “dis­pro­por­tion­ately hit the Ro­ma­nian left,” said Tsveta Petrova from risk con­sul­tancy Eura­sia Group. “As a re­sult, should a left-led coali­tion come to power, it will try to slow down this cam­paign.”

Promises,

But the PSD is still forecast to be­come the largest party, thanks to solid sup­port among older Ro­ma­ni­ans and in ru­ral ar­eas of the south­east­ern Euro­pean na­tion of 20 mil­lion peo­ple. How­ever, 27 years af­ter the sum­mary ex­e­cu­tion of Dic­ta­tor Ni­co­lae Ceaus­escu and the end of Com­mu­nism, voter ap­a­thy is rife, with turnout forecast to be as low as 40 per­cent.

Both sides, while trad­ing in­sults and gen­er­ally avoid­ing se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sion dur­ing the cam­paign, have pledged spec­tac­u­lar hikes in wages and pen­sions as well as tax cuts. Such promises, how­ever un­af­ford­able, go down well in a na­tion where more than half of ru­ral house­holds have no run­ning water and one in four peo­ple lives in poverty. Three mil­lion peo­ple have em­i­grated.

At the same time, how­ever, the na­tion­al­ist and anti-EU rhetoric seen in other coun­tries in the re­gion like Hun­gary and Poland has been largely, if not en­tirely, ab­sent. “Change has to start with all of us,” voter Livia Ghe­o­rghe, a stu­dent, told AFP. “So I am go­ing to vote and I hope that my vote counts and that the po­lit­i­cal class fi­nally changes, too.” “All the cur­rent politi­cians should go,” said Florin, an en­gi­neer. Polling sta­tions for Ro­ma­nia’s 18.8 mil­lion reg­is­tered vot­ers close at 1900 GMT, with exit polls and pro­jec­tions ex­pected after­wards.

— AFP

BUCHAREST: A Ro­ma­nian woman casts her bal­lot at a polling sta­tion in Bucharest dur­ing par­lia­men­tary elec­tions.

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