Romania holds first European assembly election

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BUCHAREST, Nov 25 (Reuters) Romanians began voting in their first election to the European Parliament today with surveys showing the opposition Democrat party of President Traian Basescu poised to win a year before a parliamentary poll.

The vote for 35 deputies to the European assembly is seen as a litmus test of the popularity of leading political parties ahead of the election.

Support for the centrist Democrat party has risen after Basescu's straight-talking style convinced many voters he is serious about fighting corruption, a major problem in the new European Union member state.

He hopes his party will return to power after Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu expelled it from the ruling coalition with his Liberal party in April.

''The election will be a test for the parties ... For Traian Basescu, the poll will be an examination of his capacity to transfer his popularity on to the Democrats,'' said Florin Ciornei from major daily Evenimentul Zilei in an opinion column.

Surveys show the vote will point to disappointment with the government's reform record since EU accession in January.

In the latest polls, the Democrats were seen winning 40 percent of ballots, compared with the Liberals' 13 percent.

Disillusionment has grown since the EU threatened to cut aid to Romania because of poor preparation in farming and has criticised the justice sector.

EU sources say it is becoming clear Romania is standing still or going backwards in its fight on fraud. Transparency International, an organisation that monitors corruption, ranks Romania as the most graft-prone EU member state.

The coalition of Tariceanu's and Basescu's centrists, which came to power in 2004, was praised initially for introducing vast justice and institutional reforms that won Romania EU entry after botched attempts by other post-communist governments.

However, political bickering fragmented the coalition and led to a policy gridlock this year.

The European election is held alongside a referendum on electoral reform meant to make politicians more accountable to voters and curb top-level graft.

Polling stations close at 0030 IST REUTERS SZ VC1356

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