Romanians vote in parliamentary polls amid coronavirus pandemic | Romania

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Elections in which ruling pro-European liberals are inclined to win are taking place with COVID-19 security measures.

Romanians are voting in parliamentary elections, with pro-European liberals in power set to win despite criticism for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. (5 a.m. GMT) on Sunday and are expected to close at 9 p.m. (7 p.m. GMT), when an exit poll will be released by local media.

The first official results are expected later Sunday evening.

Election officials imposed the now familiar virus safety measures: social distancing, wearing masks and hand sanitizer for voting.

In a region where populists and nationalists have recently gained ground, Liberal Prime Minister Ludovic Orban has pledged to modernize one of the poorest countries in the European Union and keep it on a “pro-European” path .

Orban has led a minority government for a year.

A recent opinion poll published by the IMAS institute showed that its National Liberal Party (PNL) won 28% of the vote, ahead of the main opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD) with 23%.

The recently formed center-right alliance, USR-Plus, is expected to gain 18%, which would strengthen its growing influence in Romanian politics.

The virus and widespread disillusionment with politics are expected to weigh on turnout, which is not expected to exceed 40%.

Volunteers attach placards to the fence of a polling station in Bucharest [Robert Ghement/EPA]

President backs liberals

The liberals have the advantage of being backed by President Klaus Iohannis, who has dismissed criticism that he disrespects his constitutional role in campaigning for PNL.

Last Friday, the last day of the campaign, he launched a new attack on the PSD, saying he hoped that “Romania will separate definitively from those who have tried to derail it from its European and democratic trajectory”.

The left-wing PSD is the heir to the former Communist Party and has dominated Romanian politics for the past 30 years.

He won a landslide in previous elections in 2016, but his years in office were marked by massive anti-corruption protests and clashes with Brussels over controversial judicial reforms.

Weakened further by the imprisonment for corruption of its former leader Liviu Dragnea, the PSD was removed from power by a vote of censure at the end of 2019 and is now trying to bounce back.

Election officials imposed the now-familiar security measures against viruses: social distancing, wearing masks and hand sanitizer for voting [Robert Ghement/EPA]

“The stakes in the elections are huge,” Orban said in a recent interview with AFP news agency.

“A high turnout is essential for Romania to continue moving in the right direction, namely respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, the rule of law and being a loyal member of the EU and NATO, ”he said.

The new boss of the PSD, Marcel Ciolacu, who has distanced himself from Dragnea, accused the government of “incompetence” and of not controlling the spread of the coronavirus.

“The real virus Romania is facing is… PNL,” he recently posted on Facebook.

“To stem the pandemic, we must first prevent the liberals from staying in power, from closing schools, churches and markets,” he said, reflecting the skeptical attitude of the PSD towards anti- coronavirus.

The current government insists a full second lockdown is not on the table and has so far resorted to nighttime curfews and local restrictions to try to stem the effects of the second wave.

Epidemiologists fear that this will not be enough to prevent an explosion of cases in the weeks to come. Under-staffed and with poor infrastructure, Romanian hospitals are already struggling to cope with the influx of patients in intensive care units.

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