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Romania set for presidential vote

Romanian presidential candidates Mircea Geoana (L), Crin Antonescu (C) and incumbent Traian Basescu (R) at an election debate in Bucharest
Romanian presidential candidates Mircea Geoana (L), Crin Antonescu (C) and incumbent Traian Basescu (R)

Romania holds a first round of presidential elections on Sunday after a prolonged government crisis that has hampered the country's efforts to move out of recession.

It is the first presidential election to take place since Romania joined the EU in January 2007.

Analysts hope that the election will put an end to the political wrangling that started in October when the centre-right government of Emil Boc collapsed.

The country has been in the hands of a caretaker government for the last six weeks.

Latest polls show that incumbent centre-right president Traian Basescu and his Social Democrat rival Mircea Geoana are the main contenders, with a third candidate, the Liberal Crin Antonescu, trailing behind.

The 58-year-old Mr Basescu is a former sea captain and mayor of Bucharest, and has been president since 2004. Mr Geoana, 51, is a former ambassador to Washington and former foreign affairs minister. He is the head of the ex-communist Social Democrat Party.

A run-off will be held on 6 December if no candidate wins an absolute majority in the first round.

Reforms

The winner will appoint a new premier and have an influence on long-delayed reforms aimed at bringing the country up to EU standards.

Corruption is still widespread in Romania, nearly three years after the country joined the EU.

Laura Stefan is the anti-corruption coordinator for a Romanian think tank, the Romanian Academic Society. "I think what is at stake is the rule of law", she told the BBC.

"Over the last few years we have seen a lot of attacks against anti-corruption bodies and attempts to change the anti-corruption framework. There have been attempts by parliament to block investigations. What is important is the position of the candidates in relation to these issues."

In its Corruption Perceptions Index for 2009, Transparency International ranked Romania the most corrupt EU country, along with Bulgaria and Greece.

Financial reforms have been put on hold, despite the fact that latest figures show Romania's economy could shrink 8% this year.

In March, Romania agreed to reduce public spending in exchange for a 20bn euro aid package from the IMF, the World Bank and the European Union. However, after the collapse of the government, the IMF decided to delay a 1.5bn euro tranche until the political crisis has been resolved.



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