Bucharest: Romanians go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president amid severe economic and political crisis.
A total of 12 candidates are running in the election, the first since this Balkan country joined the European Union in 2007, and the sixth after the collapse of the communist regime in December 1989.
Incumbent centre-right president Traian Basescu and his Social Democrat rival Mircea Geoana are most likely to face each other in the run-off, due on December 6, polls show.
Basescu, a former sea captain aged 58, in office since 2004, and Geoana, 51, an ambassador to the US in the late 1990s and foreign affairs minister between 2000 and 2004, are both likely to garner between 30 and 33 percent of the votes in the first round.
The third runner, Liberal candidate Crin Antonescu, is expected to get the support of 18 percent of the voters.
"Back in 2004, the success of Romania`s integration into the EU was at stake. In 2009, no matter who wins, the country will not deviate from its course," Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, president of the Romanian Academic Society, said.
The winner should lose no time in naming a new prime minister, as the country has been in the hands of a caretaker government for six weeks, putting on hold several reforms eagerly awaited by financial institutions.
In March, International Monetary Fund (IMF), EU and World Bank agreed on a 20-billion-euro bail-out plan for Romania, in exchange for its commitment to cut public spending.