Romanian opposition Democrat party wins EU vote

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BUCHAREST, Nov 26 (Reuters) Romania's opposition Democrat party won the country's first vote for the European Parliament, preliminary results showed today, bolstering its hopes of returning to power in next year's general polls.

The Democrats, who are closely linked to President Traian Basescu, won 29.1 per cent of votes, according to results from 85 per cent of ballots.

The vote for 35 deputies to the European assembly is seen as a popularity test for leading political parties ahead of a parliamentary election due to be held in late 2008.

It showed a majority of Romanians supporting centrist groupings after broad reforms of Prime Minister Calin Tariceanu's three-year-old rule won Romania entry to the European Union in January.

But the centrists appeared increasingly fragmented following months of bickering, divided into the Democrats, Tariceanu's Liberals and a splinter party of politicians who have fallen out with the prime minister.

''The Democrats are realising that ... future battles will be more complicated than they would have expected,'' Alexandru Lazescu wrote in an opinion column in daily Romania Libera.

PERSONAL CONFLICT Preliminary results showed the ex-communist Social Democrat Party (PSD) came in second with 22.2 per cent, and the Liberals trailed behind with 13.4 per cent of the vote. The splinter Liberal Democrat Party won 8 percent.

Bucharest's centrists, who came to power in 2004 on an anti-graft ticket, won praise initially for introducing broad anti-corruption and institutional reforms after botched attempts by other post-communist governments.

However, a personal conflict between Tariceanu and Basescu split the ruling alliance of Liberals and Democrats in April and led to a policy gridlock.

Brussels has threatened to cut aid due to poor preparation in the farming sector and has criticised the justice sector.

EU sources say it is becoming clear Romania is standing still or relapsing in its fight on fraud, a key problem in the Balkan society.

The preliminary results also showed a defeat for Romania's nationalist groups, with the Greater Romania Party of Corneliu Vadim Tudor and New Generation Party of football club owner Gigi Becali failing to secure seats in the European Parliament.

REUTERS PD ND1655

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