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Ballots Reprinted on Eve of Free Elections

November 2, 1996

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) _ Millions of flawed ballots were reprinted Saturday on the eve of presidential and parliamentary elections that could see the first change of power since Romanians overthrew Communism in a bloody 1989 revolution.

President Ion Iliescu, a former Communist who has led the impoverished Eastern European country since dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was executed, holds a thin lead in opinion polls released before Sunday’s national elections.

He has tried to ease the pain of economic reform by moving slowly. But Romanians seem reluctant to wait, and are prepared to vote for a power shift in hopes of a better life.

Iliescu’s two main rivals are university professor Emil Constantinescu, head of the Democratic Convention opposition alliance, and former Premier Petre Roman, who leads the Social Democratic Union. Both want quicker market reforms.

Fed up with corruption and low wages, voters are expected to give the democratic opposition a majority in the two-chamber parliament _ giving it its first chance to form the government.

Facing only its third multiparty vote since the end of Communist rule, Romania continues to be challenged by the transition from Communism to free elections.

In the balloting mistake, nearly 6 million ballots _ about 12 percent of the total _ had errors and were being reprinted, including 2 million in the capital Bucharest.

Some ballots didn’t have the electoral symbols for three of the 16 presidential candidates. Others erroneously listed small parties which failed to gain official registration.

The mistake ``won’t jeopardize the elections,″ Electoral Bureau spokesman Liviu Capraru said.

Local election monitors, meanwhile, accused the administrative agency running the elections _ the Central Electoral Bureau _ of hampering independent observers.

Nicolae Stefanescu-Draganesti, president of the League for Defense of Human Rights said as many as 2,000 observers won’t be participating because election officials assigned many observers away from their hometowns.

``This may open the door to fraud,″ he said.

Electoral officials denied interference, saying observers were assigned randomly.

Though Romanians have been bombarded by campaign advertising, many ballots are likely to be declared invalid because voters _ particularly in rural areas _ are confused and could end up voting for more than one candidate or party as they grapple with the relatively new concept of free elections.

Take Tantica, a 54-year-old village peasant in Valea Doftanei, 80 miles north of Bucharest. Tantica, who refused to give her last name said she would vote for both opposition candidates ``to make sure Iliescu doesn’t get elected again.″

But she said that in legislative elections she would vote for the Social Democracy Party because the village mayor ``is a good guy and he’s with that party.″

None of the presidential candidates is expected to win an absolute majority. A runoff is expected in two weeks.

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