Romanian PM tipped to clinch presidential run-off

Romania`s Prime Minister Victor Ponta looks set to clinch the presidency on Sunday in a run-off election in the corruption-plagued ex-communist state, despite fears that he may reverse key reforms.

AFP| Updated: Nov 13, 2014, 09:36 AM IST

Bucharest: Romania`s Prime Minister Victor Ponta looks set to clinch the presidency on Sunday in a run-off election in the corruption-plagued ex-communist state, despite fears that he may reverse key reforms.

The 42-year-old social democrat, backed by a mainly rural electorate, goes into the second round with 54 percent support, according to the latest voter surveys.

But even as Ponta enjoys a comfortable edge in the polls over his 55-year-old challenger Klaus Iohannis of Romania`s ethnic German minority, several experts say he is not a shoo-in.

"The key of the second round is getting out the vote," said Christian Ghinea of the Romanian Centre for European Politics.

"If the voters in the big cities, who tend to favour the opposition, are mobilised, Iohannis has a chance," Ghinea told AFP.

Turnout was 52 percent in the first round on November 2.

The vote is seen as a crucial test for the former communist country at a time when democracy has suffered setbacks in some neighbouring states such as Hungary, and as the Ukraine crisis has shaken relations between the European Union and Russia.

The election campaign has been marred by scandal, with numerous corruption probes including some aimed at allies of the prime minister, and a settling of scores between Ponta and his long-standing rival President Traian Basescu.

The popular centre-right Basescu, who has accused Ponta of being a former spy, cannot run for a third term. He and Ponta have shared two stormy years at the top of Romanian politics.

Whoever takes over the presidency will face pressing issues including recession and persistent accusations of corruption and bad governance.

Romania`s head of state is responsible for foreign policy and top-level appointments such as prosecutors in the second poorest EU country after Bulgaria.

Despite progress in reforming the justice system -- which has even seen a former minister jailed for corruption -- many fear a backlash is coming.

Although Ponta has vowed to keep the justice system independent, his frequent accusations that the prosecution authority known as DNA is biased has stirred trouble.

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

The changes were ultimately blocked but Ponta`s critics said the episode served as a wake-up call.

The centre-right Iohannis, mayor of the Transylvanian town of Sibiu, has centred his campaign on the fight against corruption and pledges of economic reform in the country of 20 million.

The vote of the diaspora has become a major issue going into the runoff after thousands of overseas Romanians were allegedly unable to cast ballots in the first round because of an insufficient number of open polling stations in countries including France, Germany and Britain.

Some 10,000 people protested across Romania on Saturday in support of the overseas voters, and Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean resigned Monday over the debacle.