Romania presidential vote seen heading to Nov. 24 runoff
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Exit polls from Sunday's balloting showed a runoff will be needed Nov. 24 to decide Romania's presidential contest.
Official results are not expected before Monday, though two exit polls found center-right President Klaus Iohannis collecting nearly 40% of the votes, followed by Viorica Dancila, the recently ousted prime minister, with around 22%. A candidate needs more than 50% of the votes to win the election outright.
"Exit polls show that millions of Romanians in the country and abroad voted for our project, for a normal Romania," said Iohannis, who is seeking a second five-year term.
He said that all Romanians, including those who voted for Dancila, wanted the same thing from the country's leaders: "Public money used correctly for schools, hospitals and highways, stable pensions" as well as institutions that serve the citizens and just laws that are "respected by everybody."
Pollster IRES had the center-right Iohannis capturing 38.7% of the votes and Dancila, of the Social Democratic Party, taking 22%. The poll by CURS-Avangarde showed Iohannis garnering 39% and Dancila, 22.5%.
Both exit polls had Dan Barna, of the center-right Save Romania Union, winning slightly more than 16% of the votes.
None of the remainder of the 14 candidates were seen getting more than around 8% of the votes. Voter turnout, without yet counting ballots cast by some of the 4 million Romanians working and living abroad, was close to 48 percent.
The presidential campaigns were overshadowed by the country's political crisis, which saw a minority government installed just days ago.
A member of the European Union since 2007, Romania has been struggling to contain its state budget deficit, which is projected to reach 4.4% of GDP next year, well above the EU limit of 3%. Poverty is also widespread. According to a World Bank study last year, over 25% of Romania's people live on less than $5.50 a day.
Over the past three years, as Romania has had four prime ministers and endured massive anti-corruption protests, Iohannis has cultivated the image of a staunchly pro-European leader with a calming influence.
Iohannis is a former leader of the National Liberal Party, which last week formed a minority government led by Prime Minister Ludovic Orban.
While lacking an executive role, Romania's president has significant decision-making powers, including involvement in matters of national security and foreign policy. The president also can reject party nominees for prime minister and government nominees for judicial appointments.
Dancila's Social Democratic government was ousted last month after losing a no-confidence vote in parliament amid corruption scandals and accusations that it wanted close control over the judiciary. However, she has tried to cast herself as a social reformer.
"I voted against austerity, against the cutting of pensions and salaries . (for) a Romania where citizens do not fear tomorrow," Dancila said after voting Sunday.
Romania is also facing a growing labor shortage and widespread disappointment among its youth with the current political elite.