Romanian foreign minister quits over voting shambles

By bne IntelliNews November 10, 2014

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Romanian Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean has resigned after being blamed for the shambolic organisation of voting in the first round of the presidential election at  the country's embassies abroad on November 2.

Huge queues and chaotic scenes  were reported at embassies in London, Paris and other cities with a large Romanian diaspora, with many voters unable to enter the polling booths before polls closed for the day. Police had to be called to the Romanian embassy in Paris after disputes between officials and angry voters.

Both Prime Minister Victor Ponta and President Traian Basecu blamed the chaos on Mr Chorlatean, who resigned on November 11.

There were big demonstrations over the weekend in cities across Romania, with protesters demanding that the authorities ensure Romanians abroad are able to vote on November 16, while some also chanted slogans against Mr Ponta.

The largest protests were in the prosperous northwest, the main power base of the opposition Liberal Christian Alliance (ACL). A few hundred people gathered in Bucharest, but much larger crowds - some numbering several thousand - were reported in regional centres.

The protests started on the evening of November 7 in Sibiu, hometown of Ponta’s rival for the presidency, ACL candidate and long-time Sibiu mayor Klaus Iohannis. Around 1,000 people attended a rally publicised by a Facebook and social media campaign.

The following day 2,000 people turned out Timisoara and the crowd was estimated at over 5,000 in Cluj - both cities are in Transylvania, the ACL voter heartland. According to Romanian daily Ziare, some local ACL leaders joined the protest in Cluj. Protests were also organised in several other cities including Brasov, Constanta and Iasi. More are planned for November 15, the eve of the second round ballot.

According to Agerpres, Corlatean said on November 7 that there will be more voting booths abroad, though the number of polling stations is not being increased. Up to four million Romanians currently live abroad, most of them in western Europe, though not all the diaspora are eligible to vote.

Increasing the pressure on Ponta is the fact that the failure to allow diaspora Romanians to vote most likely increased his margin on November 2. Past elections have shown that the majority typically vote for rightwing candidates. In 2009, for example, diaspora votes were critical in securing the presidency for Basescu. On November 2, Iohannis took 46% of the votes from Romanians voting from abroad, compared to just 16% for Ponta.

By contrast, among total votes cast in the first round, Ponta had a clear lead on 40.44%, followed by Iohannis on 30.37%, with Calin Popescu Tariceanu trailing in third place with just 5.36%.

Opinion polls indicate a victory for Ponta in the second round on November 16. An opinion poll published by CSCI/Infopolitic on November 7 finds that 55% would vote for Ponta to 45% for Iohannis.

Ponta indicated shortly after the first round results came in that his top pick among three possible candidates to succeed him as prime minister would be Tariceanu. The prime minister is thereby hoping to persuade those who cast their votes for Tariceanu in the first round to back him in the second.

While Tariceanu’s supporters may gravitate to Ponta, Iohannis is likely to attract supporters of other candidates such as Elena Udrea and Monica Macovei, as well as those representing Romania’s ethnic Hungarian minority, who typically favour rightwing candidates.

In almost all presidential elections in Romania since 1989, the winner of the first round of voting has gone on to be elected president. There is, however, still potential for an upset at this stage. In the 2004 presidential election the Social Democratic Party’s (PSD) Adrian Nastase took the largest share of the vote in the first round, but was overtaken in the second by Romania’s current president,  Basescu.

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