The ruling National Liberal Party and left-wing Social Democrats are neck and neck in a vote that took place amid strict measures against coronaviruses.
Prime Minister Ludovic Orban’s ruling National Liberal Party (PNL) and left-wing Social Democrats (PSD) are neck and neck in Romania’s legislative elections, according to polls.
An INSOMAR survey on Sunday projected a narrow lead for PNL, at 32 percent against 28 percent for PSD. Another exit poll by CURS-Avantgarde put PSD at 30.5 percent and PNL at 29.0 percent.
The new USR-Plus ecoliberal alliance was projected in third place.
Official results are expected later in the evening.
Even if the final results show that Orban loses by a narrow margin, he is expected to secure the nomination to form the government, most likely with the USR-Plus grouping.
More than 18 million Romanians were eligible to participate in the vote, conducted with the coronavirus safety measures of physical distancing, wearing of masks and use of hand sanitizer.
But widespread disillusionment with the country’s political class, as well as a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, depressed the turnout, which stood at an all-time high of around 33%.
To date, the seventh most populous country in the European Union has confirmed more than 500,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 12,000 deaths.
Expatriate Romanians seemed more inclined to vote, with 200,000 of them voting late Sunday afternoon, double the 2016 figure.
Romania is one of the poorest countries in the EU, and four million of its citizens have left in recent years to seek a better life elsewhere, especially in the western Member States of the Union.
In a region where populists and nationalists have recently gained ground, liberal Orban had gained some support by pledging to modernize Romania and keep it on a “pro-European” path.
Orban declared that he had voted “for a dynamic and modern Romania, confident in its capacities and respected on the international scene”.
“PNL thinks he is the winner of this election,” he later told his supporters after the exit polls were published.
The PSD has dominated political life in Romania since the fall of communism in 1989, often in multi-party coalitions that sometimes included the PLN.
The PSD won the last election in 2016 and met with three prime ministers and dozens of ministers, before the PLN took the reins of a minority government a year ago.
The PSD-led government had drawn strong criticism from the EU for its interference in the judiciary and a cascade of corruption scandals involving some of the party’s most prominent members.