Romanian premier concedes defeat in election

ROMANIAN prime minister Victor Ponta last night conceded defeat to opposition candidate Klaus Iohannis following a day dominated by protests at the government’s handling of the country’s presidential election.

A voter leaves a Bucharest polling station where high turnout was expected. Picture: Reuters

Groups protesting at claims that voters living abroad had been prevented from casting their ballots took to the streets in Romania’s major cities after polling stations closed last night.

Ponta and Iohannis were neck and neck in exit polls published last night.

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The prime minister, leaving his party headquarters, issued a statement congratulating Iohannis on his win two hours after the polls closed – although formal results were not expected till this morning.

Hundreds of voters in London who had been unable to cast their ballot before polling stations closed protested outside the city’s embassy.

There were also clashes in Turin and Paris between police and voters who had been unable to cast their ballot – with reports of tear gas being used in Italy.

Left-leaning Mr Ponta, who would have become the country’s youngest ever president at 42, had been expected to edge a win with just over half the vote, according to exit polls published earlier yesterday.

The final result is expected to be declared today, although delays were anticipated as protesters called for the poll to be declared invalid amid claims of corruption.

The election has been beset by controversy as Romanians living abroad struggled to vote in the first round on 2 November due to long queues at polling stations in overseas embassies and consulates which saw many people turned away.

Many ex-pats are believed to oppose Romania’s centre-left government, with many overseas communities, including those living in New Zealand, Japan and China, having already voted in favour of Iohannis.

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A high turnout was expected as officials reported that 27 per cent had already voted by 1pm – 7 per cent higher than in the first vote, while 44 per cent had cast their ballot by 4pm. Campaigns on social networking sites urged fellow Romanians to exercise their right to vote.

The winner, who will replace president Traian Basescu, who is stepping down after 10 years in office, needs to gain over 50 per cent of the vote.

Protests erupted in the past two weeks, with campaigners claiming that Mr Ponta – leader of the Partidul Social Democrat, which is currently part of a coalition government – had prohibited the Romanian diaspora from voting by failing to provide sufficient polling station capacity and failing to deal with problems with voter registration forms.

However, corruption probes of senior aides to Mr Ponta appeared not to have dented the former prosecutor’s chances against Mr Iohannis, the mayor of Sibiu. Mr Iohannis, 55, who leads the National Liberal Party, has promised an independent justice system.

Some Romanians believe a vote for the current prime minister means a return to the days of communism, which ended in 1989 when dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was killed.

They point to Mr Ponta’s strong links to China, where he has talked about raising Romania’s relationship to the “highest level” of “strategic partnership”.

In the city of Cluj, in Transylvania, 15,000 people turned out to protest on Friday. Photographs and video posted on social media networks showed long queues outside Romanian embassies across the world – including in London, Munich, Paris and Barcelona.

Queues were also reported outside of the Romanian Consulate on Edinburgh’s North St David Street, where the Scottish Romanian population was due to vote.

On Twitter, Romanians living in Britain spoke of the difficulties of voting, with some saying they have been waiting more than seven hours.

“Voting in London impossible. Driving to Portsmouth,” wrote Romanian ex-pat Roxana Stoica. Another voter queuing in London, called Eliza, said: “Been queuing up for 6 hours and I’ve yet to reach the entrance.”

Analysis: Social media drives new revolution in Romania 25 years on

ROMANIA is talking of revolution. Not the historic uprising of 1989, which resulted in the Christmas Day execution of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. This one is happening now. And like the Arab Spring, it is largely driven by social media.

As yesterday’s presidential elections played out, online and offline chatter grew of “revolutie”as more people began to voice their opposition to the government’s handling of the vote. “[There is a] mood in the air… about revolution,” reported one Romanian national broadcaster as the country prepared to take to the streets following the close of the polls last night.

A quarter of a century after the original revolution, which spelled the end of almost 45 years of Communist rule, many Romanians are frustrated that little has changed. They claim some of their politicians have inherited much of the infrastructure and mentality of the Communist party, ousted 25 years ago. Stories of corruption are rife. Poverty levels are high.

Yesterday’s election was a battle between current Prime Minister Victor Ponta – a social democrat favoured by traditionalists – and the lesser known Klaus Iohannis, the mayor of a small city in Transylvania.

While in-country voting was largely drama-free, it was the experience of the 530,000 Romanians eligible to cast their ballots at embassies and consulates around the world which sparked controversy. A lack of facilities for the diaspora vote saw thousands of people left queuing on the streets of cities including London, Munich and Barcelona. Some camped overnight in a bid to ensure that they could vote. Others drove across European borders to reach a polling station which they had heard – through social media, of course – had smaller queues.

Many were unable to vote. These people, protesters have claimed, would have largely voted against Ponta. Two weeks ago, similar scenes in the first round vote of the elections sparked protests – a scenario which Ponta had insisted would not be repeated.

The turnout for the poll is expected to be high while those incensed by events took to Facebook and Twitter. Last night, protests were hastily arranged online and police vans were seen heading towards the capital, Bucharest.

There were calls that the vote could be contested at the Constitutional Court. Romania is not going to let this lie.

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