Romanians vote for parliament amid concerns over graft

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romanians voted Sunday in a parliamentary election a year after a major anti-corruption drive forced the last Socialist prime minister from power.

The country of about 19 million people is one of the poorest in the European Union and perceived as one of the most corrupt.

Romania’s biggest party, the Social Democratic Party, is expected to come first and will likely try to form a majority with smaller parties. In all, 504 seats are up for re-election in Romania’s bicameral Parliament.

Turnout was about 34.4 percent nationwide after 11 hours of voting, more than 2 percent lower than in the last parliamentary election in 2012. A lower turnout favors the Social Democratic Party.

President Klaus Iohannis, who by law isn’t allowed to belong to any party, urged Romanians to vote.

“I voted for a prosperous and strong Romania,” Iohannis said Sunday after casting his ballot in the capital, Bucharest.

Former Prime Minister Victor Ponta resigned after mass protests following a nightclub fire in October 2015 that killed 64 people. The country is currently run by a government of technocrats headed by Premier Dacian Ciolos, a former EU agriculture commissioner.

The leader of the Social Democratic Party, Liviu Dragnea, got a two-year suspended prison sentence for voter fraud in April for inflating voter numbers at a July 2012 referendum to impeach former President Traian Basescu. His party was pushing a populist line.

“I voted so Romanians have more in their pockets, for higher salaries and pensions and lower taxes, to support businesses, and for young people to buy a home,” Dragnea said Sunday.

Communications consultant Iuliana Swisher, however, was pessimistic about the prospects of Romania being governed better.

“The system won’t be changed,” she said. “Even if good people with good intentions come to power, they won’t be able to change the system.”

Security guard Gheorghe Tofan, who was working Sunday in a village north of Bucharest, said he generally supported the Social Democrats, but had lost faith in politicians.

“They all lie,” he said.

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