- The Washington Times - Monday, December 7, 2009

BUCHAREST, Romania | Incumbent President Traian Basescu won the Romanian presidential runoff, near final results showed Monday, in an election Romanians hope will pull the country out of its worst political and economic crisis in 20 years.

With 95.7 percent of the vote counted, election authorities said centrist Basescu polled 50.43 percent of the vote, while former foreign minister Mircea Geoana received 49.57 percent.

Both Basescu and Geoana claimed victory late Sunday after polls closed. Three exit polls gave Geoana, a Socialist, a slight lead.

Geoana, a leader of the Social Democrats who has branded himself a unifier and team builder, declared himself the winner Sunday, calling exit poll results “a victory for normalcy, a victory for decency, for all citizens who want a better life.”

But Basescu claimed the exit polls were deceptive.

“You will see the manipulations on the television stations … Today you can trust me fully when I tell you I won,” he said.

There was no immediate reaction early Monday to official results that apparently reversed the predictions of the opinion polls.

The country faces skyrocketing unemployment and a limping government since the ruling coalition fell apart two months ago amid party squabbling.

Romania is seeking to unlock a 1.5 billion ($2 billion) International Monetary Fund bailout loan to pull it out of its deep recession but is unlikely to get one this year due to its political instability.

Basescu, 58, had seen his popularity drop this year due to the economic downturn and political feuding, but still enjoys support, especially in rural areas and among the working class. He is a formidable fighter, feuding bitterly with all the political parties in recent years except for the Liberal Democrats he used to lead.

Basescu argues that he will modernize and reform Romania, saying much of the economy is under the control of corrupt oligarchs and media moguls with whom he links Geoana, a charge that has resonated with voters amid Romania’s economic woes.

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