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Cablegate: Dewey Beats Truman! Incumbent Basescu Defies Exit Polls

VZCZCXRO9300
RR RUEHIK
DE RUEHBM #0813/01 3411038
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 071038Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0141
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 000813

DEPT FOR EUR/CE ASCHEIBE

SENSITIVE, SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV RO

SUBJECT: DEWEY BEATS TRUMAN! INCUMBENT BASESCU DEFIES EXIT POLLS
AND WINS RE-ELECTION

BUCHAREST 00000813 001.2 OF 002


REF. BUCHAREST 809 AND PREVIOUS

1. (SBU) Summary: Defying pre-election surveys and most exit polls,
incumbent Traian Basescu has won re-election in a hotly contested
campaign. Against expectations, turnout in the runoff was very
high, beating the first round by almost five points. Though there
were no systematic problems, minor electoral incidents were reported
nationwide. Print and electronic media continued to race for the
bottom with clear bias and lack of professionalism. After
prematurely claiming victory, Geoana's team is now suggesting it may
file formal claims of electoral fraud against Basescu. End Summary.

2. (U) Following an extremely close and at times vicious campaign,
incumbent Traian Basescu now seems certain to have won the December
6 presidential runoff with a margin of 0.7 percent or about 70,000
votes. With 99.13 percent of precincts reporting as of 11:00 am on
December 7, The Central Electoral Bureau (BEC) reported 50.37% for
Basescu and 49.63% for challenger Mircea Geoana of the Social
Democratic Party (PSD). With only some 90,000 votes to go, it seems
almost impossible that Geoana could close the gap.

3. (U) Turnout reached 58%, with 10.23 million casting ballots out
of 17.65 million eligible voters. Contrary to expectations, this
was significantly higher than the 53.5% turnout in the November 22
first round of elections. It was the first time in the
post-Communist era that turnout in the runoff had exceeded that in
the first round, and the first time Romanians re-elected a sitting
president. Voting was generally peaceful, although TV stations
carried images throughout the day of jammed polling places and minor
altercations between voters or with police and election officials.

4. (U) Exit polls released as the polls closed at 9:00 pm on
election night had shown Geoana in the lead, with the four major
polling firms (all with ties to PSD) giving him between 50 and 51.6
percent. By the time all four firms had released their final exit
poll figures at 11:30 pm that margin had shrunk by approximately
0.4% across the board. The CSOP poll actually showed Basescu
leading by 50.4% vs. 49.6%. At least one Bucharest daily actually
went to press overnight with headlines that Geoana had won, but most
papers simply reported that he was leading the polls.

5. (U) According to media reports, Basescu picked up most of the
votes which had gone to the Democratic Union of Hungarians in
Romania (UDMR) in the first round, as well as nearly 60% of those
who had not voted in the first round. Geoana won a majority of
those voting previously for Crin Antonescu of the National Liberals
(PNL), as well as independent candidate Sorin Oprescu and
ultraconservative nationalist Corneliu Vadim Tudor.

6. (U) There were a number of minor electoral irregularities around
the country, but no evidence of any systematic fraud. The national
police reported 55 investigations related to the election, in which
33 individuals were fined. Most involved attempted double voting or
simple drunk and disorderly behavior. Several polling places were
closed temporarily over allegations that election officials
themselves had voted multiple times, and a small number of precincts
ran out of ballots.

7. (U) Regionally, Basescu scored best in Transylvania and western
Romania, cresting at over 60% in Cluj and several other cities with
large Hungarian populations. Geoana did similarly well in the more
rural southern and eastern parts of Romania, but his margins were
lower in the urban areas that he did win. Geoana seems to have won
the city of Bucharest by barely one percentage point.

8. (U) On December 5 and 6 electronic media continued to violate the
statutory blackout on political activities immediately prior to and
during the election, and the National Audiovisual Council's (CNA)
response was ineffective. A number of TV stations broadcast footage
December 5 of alleged campaign bribery by Basescu supporters. On
election day several TV stations - including the primary public
station TVR1 - aired commentary throughout the day with commentators
explicitly criticizing Basescu, while at least two TV station
websites published preliminary results before the polls closed at
9:00 pm. Many stations projected that Geoana had won based only on
local exit polls, without waiting for official results. In one
case, CNA was unable to stop the on-air violations because some
council members were not available to vote on taking action. CNA
did manage to gain a quorum to impose sanctions on Radio Romania
Actualitati (national public radio) for broadcasts that urged
support for Geoana. The station claimed that its broadcast had been
pirated with this segment, and an investigation is underway.

9. (SBU) COMMENT. Election night itself was somewhat bizarre.
Despite the closeness of ultimately inaccurate exit polls showing
his victory (the highest margin being 51.6% to 48.4%), Geoana chose
to declare victory only minutes after the polls closed. Basescu
soon followed suit claiming he had won, though in a somewhat less
ostentatious manner. The BEC will make its next announcement at

BUCHAREST 00000813 002.2 OF 002


2:00 pm local time (7:00 am EST), though it is not clear whether it
will actually certify Basescu's victory at that time. It is an open
question whether potential Geoana appeals or fraud charges will
delay the final outcome.

GITENSTEIN

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