Hamstrung by political stalemate and buffeted by the world financial crisis, Romania votes this weekend in an election seen as too close to call.
Polls put the centre-right Liberal Democrats and the leftist Social Democrats neck-and-neck on 30 percent, with the outgoing Liberal government on 20 percent. No party is expected to win an overall majority, and a coalition is the most likely result.
But whoever forms the next government of this country of 22 million people faces the unenviable task of tackling a predicted sharp economic downturn.
President Traian Basescu’s Democrats fell out with Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu’s Liberals, and the pace of economic and political reform slowed, earning Romania Brussels’ wrath. The economy had doubled after Romania joined the EU, fuelled by foreign cash and booming demand. But the credit crunch shut off investement, and sparked anger over the widening gap between rich and poor.
The Left has seen a surge in support, with its promises of more money for the needy. All parties now pledge to boost spending, despite increasing warnings of a slowing economy and looming recession.