Former tennis star Ilie Nastase lost his first match in politics to a trade union leader in runoff elections for mayor of Bucharest, official results showed today.
Nastase, a candidate of the ruling Social Democracy Party, got 43 percent of the vote Sunday, while Victor Ciorbea of the Democratic Convention, Romania's main opposition alliance, won with nearly 57 percent.Both the government and opposition consider the local elections a preview to national legislative and presidential elections in the fall. The government is testing the popularity of its economic policies, while opposition parties are keeping an eye out for possible coalition partners.
In 70 percent of Romania's towns, there were no winners in the first round on June 2. In some places, fewer than 50 percent of voters - the legal minimum to make voting valid - cast ballots.
There was no minimum turnout requirement for the runoff elections. Overall, less than 50 percent of Romania's 16 million eligible voters cast ballots Sunday.
At stake were 2,954 mayoral posts and 39,857 council seats.
Nastase, 49, spent more than $167,000 on the campaign.
Adapting his bad-boy tennis style to politics, Nastase courted rapturous crowds by signing autographs. But he avoided addressing serious issues, publicly cursed a journalist and made crude insinuations about his rival in a TV debate.
During the campaign, the 42-year-old Ciorbea stressed his modest income, exemplary family life and union work.
The low voter turnout reflected voter apathy in Romania, 61/2 years after the overthrow of the communist dictatorship. Facing a continuous drop in living standards, most Romanians have little confidence in politicians, who they suspect enter politics for personal gain.
A widening gap between the few rich and the increasingly impoverished masses added to voter disaffection. The luxurious shops and restaurants springing up across the country are out of reach to most people - whose average monthly salary is $100.