Romania Slaps Curbs on Election ‘Gifts’

Bucharest has ordered strict limits on what politicians may hand out to voters during the election campaign – though some wonder if the measures will make much difference.A month before crucial parliamentary elections in Romania, the government on Tuesday adopted an emergency decree aimed at curbing the tradition of vote-buying in the country.

“All political parties and candidates are banned from trying to offer handouts such as food, beverages and money with the aim of winning votes,” Interior Minister Mircea Dusa said after the decision was taken at a cabinet meeting.

Candidates will be allowed to distribute promotional materials, such as caps, pens or lighters, but their value should be less than 10 Lei (2.5 euro).

It is for the first time in 20 years of democracy that Romania has attempted to regulate the sensitive issue of vote-buying.

Some analysts doubt the new law will be effective, however. “We applaud the decision to have a normal campaign and prevent buying votes”, said Septimius Parvu, from Pro Democratia, a civic organization.

“But I am doubtful that politicians will stop trying to buy people’s votes by offering some of them gifts, as it will be difficult to prove such cases,” he added.

Vote-buying, by offering petty gifts such as sugar, cooking oil and clothes, has become an accepted practice in Romania, mainly used in poor areas.

Romania is to hold parliamentary elections on December 9.

Latest polls suggest that the coalition of Prime Minister Victor Ponta remains on course to win the election.

Ponta’s Social Liberal Union, USL, is tipped to win around 57.4 per cent of the vote, only slightly down from the 60 per cent it was polling over the summer, according to a recent survey by pollster IMAS.

The Alliance for the Romanian Right, ARD, a new grouping of centre-right parties, dominated by the opposition Democratic Liberals – deeply unpopular for enforcing past austerity measures – has the support of some 16 per cent.

The populist People’s Party, PP, which advocates tax cuts and higher wages and pensions, came third in the polls with 14.9 per cent.

The PP is run by journalist-turned businessman Dan Diaconescu who is under investigation for allegedly breaking the law in a bid for the chemical company, Oltchim, which was subsequently thrown out by privatisation officials.

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