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Populist Emerges In Romania's Bitter Election

Diaconescu is frequently dismissed by mainstream politicians as an unsophisticated arriviste from the backward south, whose marathon talk shows on his OTV channel â¿¿ with the slogan "Live Sensationally" â¿¿ made him a star. But he has taken votes from both Basescu and Ponta, and will likely be a pivotal voice in the new Parliament. Basescu's allies are expected to rely on him for support.

He has earned admiration from everyday people as a sort of Romanian Oprah Winfrey, a man from a modest background who made good and hasn't forgotten his roots. Though he drives a luxury car, he has never fixed his crooked teeth and is very quiet about his personal life and assets.

"I like Diaconescu because he is pleasant and respectful to everyone whatever their class," said Lucia Popescu, who works as a security guard in Bucharest. "He thinks before he speaks, he is gentle and people have had enough of mudslinging all day long, on the TV and in the newspapers."

In a country where corruption is virtually a way of life, Diaconescu has not been immune to such allegations himself. Ponta accused Diaconescu of being a con man over his failed attempt to buy a chemical plant for ⿬45 million ($59 million), saying the entrepreneur never had the money and that it was just a pre-election publicity stunt.

Diaconescu himself is under investigation for two fraud-related cases, for allegedly trying to blackmail a mayor to stop him airing damaging information, and for fraud in the chemical plant deal. He claims the charges were trumped up â¿¿ and calls himself an outsider who understands business better than many in government.

Diaconescu, whose campaign is awash with his "lucky" color purple, promises to slash sales tax from 24 to 10 percent, create thousands of jobs and give ⿬20,000 ($26,000) to budding entrepreneurs. He told the AP he would find the funds from public money that is currently siphoned off by corrupt officials.

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