Bitter Clash In Second Round Of Elections

Ziarul BURSA #English Section / 22 iunie 2004

The slaughter that PSD suffered in the first round of elections has made such an impression on Adrian Nastase that, rumors have it, he now refuses to even consider running for president this fall. This illustrates what a powerful influence local elections have on electoral strategies for the parliamentary and presidential elections due this fall. It appears that the stakes at play in the second round of the elections for mayors and aldermen even included Nastase's presidential candidacy.

The electoral war concentrated in several hot spots - primarily Bucharest, Bacau and Cluj. Around noon yesterday, Bucharesters were continuing the slaughter of PSD they had started in the first round of elections: DA Alliance's candidates were leading the race in Sectors 1, 3, 4 and 6. PSD's Neculai Ontanu was still holding his ground in Sector 2, having a slight advantage over DA's Anca Boagiu. Statistics-makers say that the bulk of DA's voters in Bucharest usually go to ballot stations in the afternoon or evening. If this is true, then DA's victory in Bucharest should be a crushing one. A pre-electoral poll was not organized in Bacau, although the battle between PSD's Dumitru Sechelariu and PUR's Romeo Stavarache is quite interesting, not just from a political perspective, but also in light of the economic interests at play. Moldova has always been PSD's electoral citadel and Bacau is the theater to many significant interests, especially linked to oil-related affairs surrounding the Rafo refinery. The political breach made by the candidate of the party run by media tycoon Dan Voiculescu may upset PSD's local influence games (which have, so far, been played in full concord with all the local factors) and even serve as a bridgehead for Dinu Patriciu, who controls rival refinery Petromidia.

Victory was uncertain in Cluj around 2 p.m. DA's Emil Boc had scored 50.2 percent, while PSD's Ioan Rus was breathing down his neck with 49.8 percent. PSD vice-president Ioan Rus was PSD's most prominent member left in the local electoral competition. By that hour, turnout had reached 27 percent of the total number of registered voters. Nonetheless, this score was amazing, considering that Rus was endorsed not only by The Hungarian Union (UDMR - "the Hungarian branch of PSD" as some Hungarian ethnics refer to it in discontent with its policy of obedience to PSD), but also by PRM's Gheorghe Funar.

During the fortnight that passed between the two rounds of elections, analysts unanimously agreed that The Cluj City Hall depended on Funar's support for either of the two finalists. Although he had been voted out of the race during the first round, Funar, who had been Mayor of Cluj for 12 consecutive years, still had enough supporters to tip the scales in favor of one of the two finalists. As negotiations with The DA Alliance - to which PRM leader had expressed willingness - led nowhere, PRM turned to the other combatant. On Friday, the "Adevarul de Cluj" newspaper ran a front page (unsigned) article headlined "The Great Conciliation" through which Gheorghe Funar sent out the message that "the Hungarian problem" no longer existed and suggested to PRM followers in Cluj to vote for "the great conciliation" with PSD. That particular day, the newspaper had a circulation of 40,000 copies (enormous for a local publication in Romania) and was distributed for free in the streets of Cluj.

Under normal circumstances, Funar's public side-taking should have sealed PSD's victory in Cluj. However, PRM's parliamentarians representing Cluj County protested Funar's decision saying it was a personal one he had made without consulting the voters or the party and accused him of treason. Apparently, one of the PRM officials later appeared on a local television channel saying he was endorsing DA's Emil Boc. The internal dispute within PRM could explain the tie between the two finalists registered around noon, as well as the indifference of the Hungarian ethnics, who did not care to vote believing that, in light of Funar's elimination from the race in the first round, the battle was between Romanians.

Boc's victory started to take shape around 6 p.m., by which time some say Boc had already scored 55 percent of the cast votes (other say it was 52 percent). Noteworthy is that PSD has never had the Cluj mayoralty, or any other mayoralty in a Transylvanian city where people lost their life during The Revolution. Analysts generally agree that Cluj usually sets the voting tendency for the entire province of Transylvania.

This explains why PSD deployed massive forces in Cluj, including an incumbent minister (who resigned before the second round) hoping that a victory in Cluj would weigh a lot in the balance of the general elections this fall. However, the minister sent to conquer Cluj failed as miserably as his colleague sent to snatch Bucharest from the opposition.

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