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Romanian millionaire hopes for upset in Sunday polls

07 december 2012, 14:33
0
Media tycoon Dan Diaconescu. ©REUTERS
Media tycoon Dan Diaconescu. ©REUTERS
He's under investigation for fraud and on trial for blackmail, but populist millionaire Dan Diaconescu drives a white Rolls Royce and promises to be a reforming figure whose goal is to "uproot the newly rich who have plundered Romania", AFP reports.

Diaconescu has had no trouble attracting attention in the run-up to Sunday's parliamentary elections, with his fledgling party polling at about 15 percent, enough to possibly come third.

In a former communist country where corruption charges -- and convictions -- don't necessarily hamper candidates running for office, Diaconescu has seen his party's popularity soar.

The 44-year-old Diaconescu, a television station owner and presenter, is hoping to unseat left-wing Prime Minister Victor Ponta in his Jiu Valley constituency. It's a long-shot, but he could end up in parliament anyway thanks to the country's proportional voting system.

It will be Romania's first national vote since a failed attempt by the ruling Social-Liberal Union party (USL) this summer to unseat centre-right President Traian Basescu -- a move drawing sharp international condemnation.

Diaconescu, who reputedly owns a private jet and a yacht, has set up camp in the dull, central Romanian city of Targu Jiu.

On his daily walkabout, accompanied by bodyguards and campaigners, Diaconescu is cheered by scores of people, though they seem more eager to grab one of the purple scarfs he is handing out than hear his political positions.

The party he set up last year, the Dan Diaconescu People's Party, may come third behind the USL and the opposition centre-right ARD.

"We want to restore Romania's lost values and the Romanians' dignity," the boyish-looking, grey-haired Diaconescu told AFP.

"We also plan to raise the minimum wage to 1,000 lei (220 euros) and to hand 20,000 euros to every Romanian who starts his own business," he added.

Political analyst Cristian Parvulescu said Diaconescu is capitalising on a surge of nationalism, and "rallying around him the losers of the transition from communism to capitalism."

"The key issue is not the electoral impact he could have, but the message he is sending out that no one seems to hear. Namely that poverty is growing, just like Romanians' disenchantment, while the basis of democracy is becoming increasingly more frail," Parvulescu said.

In October, Diaconescu was among four bidders in the privatisation of a chemical plant, Oltchim. After he was picked as winner, he carried four bags supposedly filled with cash to the economy ministry to prove he could make a two-million-euro ($2.61-million) down payment.

He claimed he was ready to give control of the plant to its employees and restore the site to the Romanian people, as it supposedly was under communism.

But he was in fact unable to pay for the plant. The saga ended with anti-graft prosecutors opening a fraud probe.

Diaconescu, who started as a local newspaper journalist, has gradually built his reputation -- and his wealth. In 2001, he started a channel, OTV, in a Bucharest apartment.

In 2010, he was charged with blackmail after prosecutors said he asked a Romanian mayor for 200,000 euros, threatening to air "compromising, real or imaginary facts" about him if he refused.

Diaconescu denies the charges. His trial is ongoing.

A daily talk-show Diaconescu anchors is among the most popular in Romania, with viewers asked to send paid text messages to voice opinions.

Joined by guests with questionable expertise on the topics, Diaconescu debates late into the night on salacious stories, and broadcasts the funerals of criminals.

The PPDD will field 446 candidates, whom Diaconescu calls "the angel members of my dream team." A total of 470 seats are up for grabs.

"Most of his candidates are opportunists who for some reason or other want to return to parliament by using the PPDD as a springboard," Parvulescu said.

But Diaconescu has big ambitions.

"Our goal is two win the next presidential poll, in 2014," he said.

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