By ALISON MUTLER, Associated Press
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's government has swept to victory in a parliamentary election but even that convincing win may not defuse the rancorous rivalry between the country's two top politicians.
The center-left alliance led by Prime Minister Victor Ponta won nearly 60 percent of the vote, trouncing President Traian Basescu's center-right allies, with 95 percent of the vote counted Monday.
Many Romanians are fed up with a power struggle between Basescu and Ponta and are desperate for political stability after a year of upheaval. The financially struggling Balkan nation has run through three prime ministers and Cabinets this year and endured huge protests against the austerity measures that have been imposed in return for a €20 billion ($26 billion) bailout.
Continued political feuding could create a lasting atmosphere of instability that would deter much-needed foreign investment.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitored the vote, said "the election campaign was largely overshadowed by the power struggle" between Basescu and Ponta.
"The continuation of a highly-charged political atmosphere, with sharp rhetoric and reported pressure on authorities undermined confidence but did not challenge the overall conduct" of the vote, it said in a statement.
"We won a clear majority, a majority recognized by our adversaries, who have to accept the rules of democracy," Ponta said after the polls closed Sunday. "I assure them we will treat the opposition with the respect that we did not get when we were in opposition."
His group is expected to get about 270 seats in the 452-seat Parliament.
Ponta attempted unsuccessfully to impeach Basescu this year, describing him as a divisive figure who has overstepped his role as president by meddling in government business. The Romanian government was criticized by the European Union and Washington for failing to respect the rule of law in the way it conducted the impeachment process.
In return, Basescu has threatened to withhold his blessing for Ponta, a presidential act that is usually a formality. However, it looked unlikely Monday that Basescu had the political capital to stick to his threat.
"Basescu is unpredictable, but he doesn't have the mandate not to name Ponta as prime minister," analyst Stelian Tanase told The Associated Press. "He can't prolong the political crisis."
Basescu could nominate someone else, but his choice would have to be approved by Parliament. If his candidate was rejected twice, Parliament could be dissolved and new elections called.
The government has threatened to try to impeach Basescu again if he refuses to nominate Ponta.
Basescu has not spoken since the election. On Monday, he was in Norway along with other European Union leaders to collect the bloc's 2012 Nobel Peace Prize for fostering peace on a continent ravaged by war.
Election official Marian Muhulet said Basescu's group won less than 17 percent of the vote. A populist party led by a media tycoon scored about 14 percent and an ethnic Hungarian party won just over 5 percent. Other parties did not get the minimum 5 percent.
Basescu's allies in government grew unpopular due to the harsh austerity measures — spending cuts and tax hikes — they imposed and allegations of cronyism. Ponta was appointed prime minister in May after a confidence vote — making him the third prime minister this year.
Ponta restored most pensions and salaries that were slashed as part of the bailout loan agreement, but has largely continued the policies of the previous Basescu-allied governments, including a 24 percent sales tax, one of the highest in the 27-nation EU.
In Romania, the job of prime minister entails running the country and distributing public finances, while the president names the chiefs of the intelligence services, appoints ambassadors and chairs the country's top defense body, the Supreme Defense Council.
Since his election as president in 2004 and re-election in 2009, Basescu has represented Romania at the EU and other international summits, which has caused friction with Ponta.