"We believe that if this money is no longer stolen by our new political class, Romania would have 40 percent more, and here I' m talking about wages or pensions," he said.

His populist party, which was only created two years ago, is polling 15 percent, trailing just behind Basescu's allies, the Just Romania Alliance, a new grouping of center-right parties.

They are unpopular for past austerity measures and perceived cronyism.

"We work 15 hours a day for 1,000 lei (⿬225) a month, is that normal?" said Ioana Stoian, a 27-year-old vendor, wrapping a sweet cheese pastry. "Diaconescu will do something. They (politicians) do nothing apart from steal and fill their pockets."

But some wonder whether he can be anything more than a protest candidate.

Diaconescu's party emerged "due to the disappointment of the electorate and Romanian society toward unfulfilled promises made by President Basescu and governments," said Stelian Tanase. But he predicted the party might not have the staying power to last.

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