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Romania Votes in First European Elections


Voters in Romania are casting ballots in their country's first European parliamentary elections since it joined the European Union this year. As Stefan Bos reports from Budapest, among those participating is a Reformed bishop whose actions helped spark the 1989 revolution that ended decades of Communist rule.

More than 18 million people are eligible to vote for Romania's 35 representatives in the European Parliament. The voters say they hope the parliament members will help improve living standards and the extent to which Romanians can move freely around Europe.

They will replace members who were nominated by Romania's parliament for the first months of E.U. membership.

The elections were originally scheduled for May this year, but had to be postponed due to what analysts describe as "political infighting", between the country's president, Traian Basescu, and Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu. A month before the scheduled vote, Mr. Basescu beat off an attempt to impeach him when he won a landslide victory in a referendum.

Opinion polls indicate the president's centrist Democrats will win with about 40 percent of ballots, compared with 13 percent for the Liberals of Prime Minister Tariceanu. Analysts say disillusionment in the government has grown since the European Union threatened to cut aid to Romania because of its agricultural and anti-corruption policies.

Among the dozen parties running is an independent candidate, Reformed Bishop Laszlo Tokes, who hopes to represent Romania's 1.5 million ethnic Hungarians.

Most of them live in the area of Transylvania, which belonged to Hungary before the 1920 Treaty of Trianon gave the region to Romania.

Bishop Tokes' participation in the ballot has been big news on Hungarian television, in part because he also played a key role in the 1989 revolution that overthrew dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

He has defended his controversial decision to run as an independent against the main ethnic-Hungarian political party, the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania.

The elections are giving people the freedom to choose the political party they like, he tells the Budapest-based television network Hir TV. He adds it is no surprise that Hungarians in Romania vote primarily for ethnic-Hungarian politicians. All ethnic Hungarians are living with their national feeling and a strong longing to their homeland, he says.

Among his announced plans, the bishop wants to promote more autonomy for ethnic Hungarians and improve their educational opportunities. The European parliament election coincides with a referendum on reforms for national elections in Romania, intended to make politicians more accountable to voters and to curb top-level fraud.

Romania joined the European Union January 1.