Romanian voters are going to the polls in a presidential election expected to support the incumbent, Klaus Iohannis, an anti-corruption policymaker who has won praise in the west for his commitment to the rule of law.
Opinion polls show Iohannis, a centrist liberal, winning the ballot with 40% of the vote. If correct, the 60-year-old will face a runoff on 24 November, which he is also expected to win.
Romania’s president nominates a prime minister, who has executive powers, after holding consultations with political parties. The president can also veto laws adopted by parliament by challenging them in the constitutional court or by sending them back to be reconsidered.
Under a succession of Social Democrat governments, Romania, which is part of the EU, rolled back anti-corruption rules, joining its former communist peers Poland and Hungary in facing criticism from Brussels over maintaining the rule of law.
Iohannis, who won his first term as president in 2014, had challenged a contested overhaul of the judiciary and attempts to limit magistrates’ independence.
If elected again, he will have a chance to install chief prosecutors willing to tackle endemic corruption, supported by the liberal minority government of the prime minister, Ludovic Orban, an ally who won a parliamentary vote of confidence this month.
“I voted for stability. We need stability with a president determined to fight the ‘corrupts’,” said Maria Dobre, 72, after casting her ballot at a Bucharest school, shortly after polls opened at 7am local time.
Iohannis is trailed in the opinion polls by Viorica Dăncilă, the leader of the Social Democrats (PSD) and a former prime minister, and by Dan Barna, the head of the centre-right opposition Save Romania Union. The polls have both challengers on about 20% of the vote.
Romania has been monitored by Brussels over progress on reform of its judiciary since 2007. In May, Liviu Dragnea, a former PSD leader, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison after being found guilty of corruption.
In October, the European commission reported that backtracking from judicial reform and the fight against corruption persisted.
Iohannis spearheaded a national referendum in which an overwhelming majority of Romanians said they wanted the government to be banned from altering legislation via emergency decrees, and advocated a national ban on granting amnesties and pardons for graft-related crimes.
“It’s important to have continuity at the helm and I think Iohannis deserves a new term. He … successfully fought and defeated the PSD. He must continue,” said Dora Stanga, a 29-year-old retail assistant.
Observers said a win for Iohannis could bolster the Liberal party’s chance of forming a coalition government after a general election scheduled to be held in late 2020 or early 2021 and restore investor confidence eroded by several years of political instability and fiscal largesse.
Polling stations across the country close at 11pm local time. Romania has 18.2 million eligible voters.
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