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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 November, 2004, 23:04 GMT
Fraud worries in Romanian poll
By Nick Thorpe
BBC, Bucharest

Election day in Romania - the chance to choose a government and president expected to take the country into the European Union in 2007.

The unfolding drama in neighbouring Ukraine has added an extra tension to the vote.

Orthodox monk voting at monastery
Romanians are voting in parliamentary and presidential elections
Outside the white ministry of finance building in Bucharest, two large coaches, one with a Bucharest registration plate, the other from the Transylvanian city of Sibiu rev their engines.

Around 100 mostly young people leave the building and board the coaches in the warm wintry sunshine.

A few minutes before 1000 (0800 GMT), the coaches set out.

We follow at a distance, several Romanian journalists and myself, and a car-load of opposition activists.

Acting on a tip-off, the opposition claim we are about to witness a very Romanian form of electoral fraud.

The coaches turn off the main road into a pot-holed street at Voluntari, a poor district of single-storey houses just inside the Bucharest ring-road.

'Supplementary lists'

This is clearly a stronghold of the governing Social Democratic Party (PSD) - as the former Communist Party is called.

Opposition candidate Traian Basescu
The opposition are worried people are using flaws in the system to vote more than once
Their blue posters adorn every lamp-post. The serious, confident face of Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, the PSD candidate for president, is everywhere.

The coaches park in a side street, and the passengers file into the voting station in the village primary school.

Local gypsy women in colourful flowery dresses watch in silence. Dogs bark and cockerels crow. The local football team practice on a piece of waste-ground, behind a broken iron fence.

Half an hour later, one coach sets off at speed. We follow it again. A black car, apparently with the coaches, detaches itself from them, to follow us for a while.

The coaches turn west on the ring road, then take a short cut, up to the main highway north, towards Brasov. We take a different route, and lose the black car. Then catch up with it, and the two coaches, further up the highway.

Back at Voluntari, journalists are told the visitors voted on the "supplementary lists" available at all 17,000 Romanian voting stations. They are designed to help Romanians in transit practice their democratic rights on election day.


But according to the non-governmental organisations monitoring these elections, they leave the way open for electoral fraud on a massive scale.

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase
PM Adrian Nastase's PSD says there have been irregularities by the opposition
Traditionally, Romanians voted with a cardboard identity card, which was stamped when they voted.

Though these are still valid, most people now have the new laminated plastic IDs, introduced over the past five years.

A stamp, rather like a postage stamp is affixed to these, when a person votes. But the stamps can be easily removed.

"According to our information, the people on the coach intend to vote four times today," says Silviam Ionescu, head of the third district branch of the opposition Democratic Party.

Their tip-off suggests the passengers planned to vote before they left Bucharest, then again at Voluntari, then at least twice more before returning to the capital.

Nervous laugh

Wary of the growing media interest in their progress, we are told later that they took refuge in a restaurant in the mountain resort of Sinaia.

Back at PSD headquarters, the party spokesman Titus Corlatean, dismisses any suggestion of fraud by his party. In fact he says: "We have evidence of numerous irregularities by the opposition."

At 1930, a queue of more than 200 people has formed outside voting booths in a brightly-lit waiting lounge at Bucharest North, the city's main railway station.

Tannoy announcements offer potential voters in the queue the chance to vote at other polling stations - interspersed with announcements for trains setting out to all corners of the country.

The head of the polling station laughs nervously when I ask him what safeguards exist against people voting here, as well as in their home constituencies.

"We are an honest people," he says. "And anyway, I expect the Central Electoral Bureau will check the names."

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