Romania's government does well in local elections

June 11, 2012 - 12:07 PM

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Bolstered by what appeared to be a strong showing in local elections, Romania's governing coalition promised on Monday to raise the salaries of some public employees to help ease the pain of austerity measures the country imposed to win its IMF loan.

The Central Elections Bureau said that with about 40 percent of the votes counted from Sunday's election, the left-leaning government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta won 47.2 percent of council seats and town halls. The center-right Democratic Liberal Party, which lost control of Romania's government in a no-confidence vote in April, was a distant second with 14.5 percent.

If those percentages hold, the local elections would put Ponta's coalition in a strong position for this fall's parliamentary vote.

Sunday's vote appeared to be another indication of widespread dissatisfaction with austerity measures that led to the no-confidence vote, and a perception that the country's leaders can be corrupt and arrogant.

Ponta's government says it respects the terms of a €20 billion ($25 billion) International Monetary Fund-led loan, but it also has promised, without providing details, to raise salaries for public employees such as police and Interior Ministry workers this year, which were slashed by 25 percent by the previous government in 2010. About 1.25 million people are state employees in the relatively poor country of Romania.

Ponta said he would address Parliament on Tuesday in a speech that is expected to begin his coalition's platform for the parliamentary election, including issues such as European Union funding and plans for Romania to enter the EU's visa-free Schengen travel zone.

President Traian Basescu, who supported Romania's previous government, said it had no choice but to impose austerity measures during an economic crisis. "Nobody wanted to cut salaries ... but look at the other countries like Spain and Greece," he said.

In Sunday's election, the Democratic Liberal Party scored one important victory in the major city of Cluj, where former Prime Minister Emil Boc managed a narrow victory, officials said. Elsewhere, the governing coalition was taking many major cities, including the capital, Bucharest, where the former government lost all its district mayors.

The former center-right government, which had taken power in Romania in 2008, was forced to step down after it enacted measures to cut government spending in return for receiving the IMF loan in 2009. The next year, the government slashed salaries in the public sector by one-fourth and introduced a sales tax of 24 percent, one of the highest in Europe. These steps led thousands of Romanians to hold anti-government demonstrations during bitter winter weather in January and in February, leading to the collapse of Boc's government.