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Romanian gov't expected to win bitter elections

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 9, 2012 at 9:20 am •  Published: December 9, 2012

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romanians braved snow and heavy rain on Sunday to vote in a parliamentary election expected to return the government to power, a result that could inflame the personal rivalry between the nation's top two officials and bring yet more political upheaval.

Authorities were asking the army and the defense ministry to help clear roads closed by blizzards, and some 250 polling stations were prevented from opening on time, officials said. Though early turnout was low in some areas, it was unclear what kind of effect that might have on the vote.

Many Romanians are fed up with the power struggle between the country's top two leaders, especially as the country remains one of the poorest and most corrupt members of the European Union. Romania is enduring deep austerity cuts in return for a €20-million ($26-million) bailout to help its foundering economy.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta's coalition is expected to win a majority, but his battle with President Traian Basescu threatens to throw the country into a political standoff no matter the outcome.

Basescu must nominate the prime minister, and he has indicated he may not appoint Ponta even if his coalition takes the vote. The two have openly battled since Ponta tried and failed to impeach the center-right Basescu in July.

Basescu has been outspoken in his criticism of Ponta, accusing him of failing to follow democratic reforms in the formerly communist country, and calling him "a compulsive liar" who plagiarized his doctoral thesis. Ponta says Basescu is a divisive figure who has overstepped his role as president by meddling in government business.

Basescu could nominate someone else, but his choice would have to be approved by Parliament. If his candidate fails in two rounds of voting, Parliament could be dissolved.

Heavy rain was falling in Bucharest early Sunday, but it eased off later. Seven hours after voting began authorities said the turnout nationwide was 20.56 percent, normal for a parliamentary vote, but there was a significantly lower turnout in western regions hardest hit by snow.

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