Romania scraps amnesty seen helping jailed politicians

Bucharest (AFP) - Romanian lawmakers on Tuesday scrapped a controversial amnesty bill aimed at freeing corrupt politicians from prison, just two days after a presidential election marked by outrage over rampant graft.

The nearly unanimous vote -- 293 for with one against and one abstention -- followed anti-corruption candidate Klaus Iohannis's surprise election victory on Sunday.

The bill, strongly criticised by foreign governments including the United States, had called for amnesty for inmates serving sentences of up to six years for non-violent crimes.

If it had become law, the legislation would have freed several former ministers, elected officials and magistrates who were behind bars after being convicted of corruption.

- After Iohannis poll victory -

Iohannis, the mayor of the mediaeval Transylvanian city of Sibiu, secured 54 percent of the votes in Sunday's poll in the former communist country after vowing to stamp out corruption.

The vote, in which Iohannis trounced Prime Minister Victor Ponta, was seen as pivotal for one of the poorest countries in Europe that has struggled to overcome an entrenched culture of corruption.

On what was dubbed "Black Tuesday" in December last year, Ponta's government passed a series of new laws granting immunity to elected officials.

Romanians suspected the legislation was proposed in order to free former prime minister Adrian Nastase, who was sentenced to four years behind bars in January 2014 after being convicted of corruption.

It was his second graft-related sentence. In June 2012 Nastase was handed two years in prison for syphoning off funds totalling 1.5 million euros for his 2004 election campaign. He was released in March 2013.

Despite progress in reforming the justice system, many feared a backslide to graft if Ponta was elected president.

Although Ponta had vowed to keep the justice system independent, his frequent accusations that the prosecution authority, known by its initials DNA, was biased stirred trouble.

Observers said Iohannis's appeal to voters was in honesty in a country sick of government corruption, with several senior figures in Ponta's formerly communist Social Democrats accused of graft.

He also benefitted from a record voter turnout -- polls put it over 62 percent -- which experts had earlier said would disproportionally bring out Ionhannis's supporters.

Ponta's defeat was a shock because he headed into the second round of voting with 54 percent support, according opinion polls ahead of the election.

Ponta's main support was from the hugely influential Romanian Orthodox Church, as well as his party's traditional electorate of the rural population, small business employees and the elderly.