Romanian foreign minister resigns in election row

Romania's Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean gestures during a news conference announcing his resignation in Bucharest November 10, 2014. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel (Reuters)

By Radu-Sorin Marinas BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romanian Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean resigned on Monday after thousands of people rallied at the weekend in support of compatriots abroad who were turned away as they tried to vote in the first round of a presidential election. Corlatean had been told by leftist Prime Minister Victor Ponta to ensure the Nov. 16 runoff vote ran smoothly or risk losing his job after Romanians living abroad complained of long queues at embassy polling stations and shortages of a form that had to be signed before a ballot could be cast in the Nov. 2 vote. Ponta won the first round of the election by a 10 percentage point margin over Klaus Iohannis, an ethnic German mayor backed by two centre-right opposition parties. Ponta is likely to win the runoff vote, opinion polls showed. On Saturday, as thousands of people rallied in cities across Romania, Corlatean said there would be no increase in the number of polling stations abroad. Some protesters called on Ponta to resign, saying he had failed to ensure all citizens could exercise their right to vote. Ponta told reporters on Monday he had accepted Corlatean's resignation and had appointed former foreign intelligence head Teodor Melescanu, a veteran politician, as interim foreign minister. Melescanu quit the espionage post in September and had joined the presidential race as an independent candidate. "First discussions will be at the electoral bureau to find out what can be done and which are the ways to ensure voting participation (abroad)," Ponta said. The Romanian Embassy in Paris called in French police as tempers flared as people waited to vote on Nov. 2. "I cannot give reasons for contesting the outcome of the presidential election runoff on grounds of noncompliance with the law, abroad," Corlatean told a news briefing. "I can't break the law. "The Foreign Ministry fully keeps its stance that there's no legal basis to up the number of polling stations abroad," Corlatean said on Monday. Analysts estimate there are up to 4 million Romanians living abroad, primarily in richer western Europe. Although only a fraction of them vote in elections, they have the power to influence the outcome. Outgoing centre-right President Traian Basescu won by a margin of 70,000 votes in 2009 after trailing in opinion polls, largely because he secured more than three-quarters of the 148,000 ballots cast by the diaspora. (Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Janet Lawrence)