Romanian leftist Social Democrats take lead in parliamentary vote

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania’s opposition Social Democrats (PSD) have taken the lead in Sunday’s national election, seen as pivotal for the country’s future in the European mainstream, according to a preliminary independent count, but are unlikely to form the next government.

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The PSD, which rode a wave of voter discontent over the coronavirus pandemic and the minority Liberal government’s pledges of fiscal restraint, will struggle to form a functioning majority against incumbent Prime Minister Ludovic Orban.

President Klaus Iohannis, an ally of the Liberals who gets to nominate the prime minister, has said repeatedly that he will task Orban with forming a centre-right coalition government to rein in a ballooning budget deficit and restore the European Union member state’s credibility among foreign investors.

Orban himself claimed victory on Sunday evening after exit polls showed the outcome was too close to call.

A parallel count by independent platform Code for Romania showed early on Monday that the PSD had won 29.7% of votes and the Liberals 25.57% with roughly 96% of ballots counted.

The count does not include roughly 265,000 votes cast in the Romanian diaspora.

The centrist alliance USR-Plus, a likely coalition partner for the Liberals, won 15.5% of votes.

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The next parliament looks set to only have five parties, including ethnic Hungarian UDMR and the newcomer Alliance for Uniting Romanians (AUR), an ultranationalist grouping.

Partial official results will be released later on Monday.

Parliamentary seat redistributions will change the final percentages and favour the largest parties, but analysts said the Liberals and USR-Plus would probably need to co-opt another grouping in parliament to gain a majority.

“It is a weak result for the Liberal Party,” said Sergiu Miscoiu, a professor of political science at Babes-Bolyai University. “The more parties it needs to form a coalition the more complicated the compromises it will have to make.”

Turnout was the lowest since the 1989 fall of communism, with decades of voter apathy over failed reforms compounded by fears over coronavirus contagion in polling stations.

The EU would welcome a government led by Orban, after years of efforts by a succession of PSD Romanian cabinets to suppress the independence of the courts – a charge they denied – that mirrored overhauls of the judiciary in Poland and Hungary.

Orban also campaigned on a promise to bring Romania closer to the EU mainstream following years of fiscal populism, political instability and neglect of rundown infrastructure and public services.

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