Romanians elect new lawmakers, seek end to political turmoil

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A woman casts her vote in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020. Voting started in Romania's legislative election expected to restore some measure of stability after five years of political and social turbulence with more than 18 million Romanians registered to vote for a new legislative body. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

BUCHAREST – Romanians voted Sunday in a legislative election that many hope will restore some stability in one of the poorest European Union nations after five years of political and social turmoil.

More than 18 million Romanians are registered to vote for a new national parliament, but turnout was expected to be low because of voters’ fears about becoming infected with the coronavirus.

To date, the EU’s seventh-most populous country has confirmed more than 500,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 12,000 deaths.

According to most preelection polls, the center-right National Liberal Party, known by its Romanian acronym PNL, will become the nominal winner of the election with more than 30% of the vote.

If the polls’ accuracy holds up, the mainstay party of Romania’s EU-aligned, austerity-prone social conservatives will, for the first time in its nearly three-decade history, become the largest party in the country’s 465-seat bicameral parliament. Still, it would fall short of a governing majority. Analysts predict the party will seek to create a governing coalition with the progressive USR-Plus alliance, which is forecast to capture around 20% of the vote.

Both campaigned on promises to depoliticize and fully reform Romania’s civil service, safeguard the independence of its judiciary, impose fiscal discipline and prop up the collapsing public health care and education systems.

But they appear to have somewhat divergent views on how best to get rid of the corruptive welfare state model and inefficient bureaucracy, blamed by both on decades of political supremacy in Romania of the left-leaning, populist Social Democrat Party, or PSD.

The Social Democrats have dominated Romania’s political life since the fall of communism in 1989, often in multi-party coalitions that at times included the PLN.