53ºF

Romania's ruling party upbeat after municipal elections

BUCHAREST – Exit polls published in Romania Sunday after voting ended in the country’s municipal elections indicated that the balance of power in European Union member state is unlikely to shift in the next general election set for Dec. 6.

About 19 million registered voters chose local officials, council presidents and mayors to fill more than 43,000 positions across the nation in elections seen as a preview of how the next general ballot will unfold.

Official results weren’t expected before Monday, but the center-right National Liberal party, or NLP, which has controlled Romania’s minority government since last October, sounded upbeat after exit polls by a number of local pollsters predicted victory for the candidate it backed in the race for mayor of the capital, Bucharest.

Prime Minister Ludovic Orban went a step further describing the election as “historic” and telling local media that the NLP had scored “a clear victory” against the left-leaning Social Democrat Party, known as PSD, for the first time in 30 years.

The PSD remains the strongest party in Romania’s parliament, despite losing its governing majority. It has been in power until last fall when its government, led by Prime Minister Viorica Dancila, lost a confidence vote in parliament amid massive popular protests and heavy criticism from Brussels over its attacks on the judiciary and widespread graft.

Next, in the country’s presidential election last November, Dancila suffered a crushing defeat to the NLP’s former leader, Klaus Iohannis.

However, PSD has recently appeared to be winning back some of the lost popular support as the minority government has been struggling to contain the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic by curbing social spending.

Even before the pandemic, Romania has been plagued by widespread poverty with over 25% of population living on less than $5.50 a day. In August, its state budget deficit reached 4.7% of gross domestic product compared to 1.71% in the same period of last year.

Still, last week, the PSD managed to push through the parliament a motion to raise all state pensions by 40%, ignoring the warnings by the country’s central bank that it was unfeasible.

The PSD leader Marcel Ciolacu all but conceded the election loss by its incumbent major of Bucharest, Gabriela Firea.

However, Ciolacu told local media that “vote count is the best exit poll,” insisting that the PSD “was doing well” elsewhere in the country.