FILE PHOTO: Romanian interim PM Ludovic Orban delivers a speech before a no-confidence vote session in the Romanian Parliament in Bucharest, Romania February 5, 2020. Inquam Photos/George Calin via REUTERS
December 6, 2020
By Radu-Sorin Marinas and Luiza Ilie
BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romanian Prime Minister Ludovic Orban claimed victory in Sunday’s national election seen as pivotal for the country’s future in the European mainstream, although one exit poll showed his ruling Liberals (PNL) losing by a narrow margin.
A reform-minded fiscal conservative, Orban is expected to get the nomination to form the government, most likely with the small centrist USR-Plus grouping, from President Klaus Iohannis, even if final results show him slightly behind his rivals, the leftist PSD.
He quickly claimed victory, with one exit poll conducted by INSOMAR giving him a narrow lead of 32% versus the PSD’s 28%. Another exit poll by Curs-Avantgarde put the PSD at 30.5% and the PNL at 29.0%. Both showed the USR-Plus at roughly 16%.
Partial official results were expected on Monday morning, and updated exit polls were due later on Sunday, with those released initially including votes cast until 1700 GMT, two hours before polls closed.
“The PNL thinks it is the winner of this election,” Orban told supporters in a quick speech.
He has pledged to overturn years of efforts by a succession of leftist governments to suppress the independence of courts – a charge they denied. Critics had compared them to judiciary overhauls in Poland and Hungary the European Commission says subvert the rule of law.
In power for a year until now, Orban had been constrained in any reform efforts by a parliament controlled by the PSD, which has seen three prime ministers toppled since the last legislative election in 2016 amid infighting over jobs.
The party’s last government collapsed in late 2019, following the imprisonment of former leader Liviu Dragnea on corruption charges.
Campaigning on a promise to bring Romania closer to the European mainstream, Orban has pledged to restore investor sentiment badly shaken by the PSD’s fiscal populism and revive efforts to repair neglected infrastructure and public services.
The PSD had seen a last-minute rise in polls, after it accused him of botching Romania’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic.
With a six-percent annual contraction in the third quarter, Romania had one of the worst economic outcomes in the EU.
The party’s core rural electorate was angry over social distancing restrictions that curbed the ability of small-plot farmers to sell their produce in nearby cities.
“Romanians sanctioned the mockery that was (Orban’s) handling of the pandemic,” PSD leader Marcel Ciolacu said.
Turnout was the lowest since Romania shed communism in a bloody revolt in 1989, with decades of voter apathy over failed reforms compounded by fears over coronavirus contagion in voting stations.
There were few new rules introduced for election day, but Romania has had one of the highest death rates in the EU. Schools and restaurants remain closed and an evening curfew was imposed in November.
(Writing by Justyna Pawlak; editing by Giles Elgood and Nick Macfie)