Romanians vote for mayors in ballot overshadowed by graft

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romanians began voting Sunday for local officials in administrations that are plagued with corruption.

In Bucharest, the former city mayor and five out of six district mayors elected in 2012 have been convicted or are being investigated on graft charges. Two are running to win their districts again this year.

Bucharest, a city of more than 2 million, had the largest local budget this year of 4.1 billion Romanian lei ($1.01 billion).

Polls opened at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) and will close at 9 p.m. (1800 GMT). At 4 p.m. (1300 GMT), some 31.7 percent of the electorate of 18.3 million had voted, election authorities said.

Romania has launched a major drive against corruption in the last few years and its anti-corruption agency successfully prosecuted 1,250 cases, including a former prime minister and five former ministers, its best performance ever.

However, people who have been indicted of corruption but haven’t been convicted are not excluded from running for office.

Some 51 of 109 mayors of Romania’s major cities have been convicted or investigated for corruption or have been declared unfit for office according to the anti-corruption site.

According to Romania’s anti-corruption prosecutors’ office, more than 100 mayors, deputy mayors, county council presidents and vice presidents were indicted for corruption in 2015.

Ion Gavrila, a security officer guarding an ornate white office building in downtown Bucharest, said he was disillusioned with the candidates running for office.

“There are five out of six who are suspected of corruption in Bucharest, who should I vote for? The problem is that once people get into office, they steal,” he said.

The current mayor of the city of Brasov, George Scripcaru, is running for a fourth term. He was arrested in 2015 for abuse of office, on suspicion of taking kickbacks from energy contracts and accepting bribes. He denies wrongdoing.

A deputy chairman of Romania’s main Social Democracy party, Lia Olguta Vasilescu, is running for a second term as mayor of Craiova, Romania’s sixth largest city. She has been indicted on suspicion of bribery, using her authority or influence to obtain money or other goods and for money laundering. She denies wrongdoing.

It is the first ballot after the Colectiv nightclub fire in Bucharest where 64 people died. The fire was blamed on safety officials who ignored violations of fire regulations. Former Premier Victor Ponta resigned following protests after the fire.


A previous version of this story has been corrected to say five out of six district mayors elected in 2012, not six out of seven, have been convicted or are being investigated on graft charges.