Today's vote in Romania will decide which of 12 presidential candidates will replace long-time postcommunist leader Ion Iliescu to lead the country through tough reforms that are required for membership in the European Union.
The two leading presidential contenders are outgoing Prime Minister Adrian Nastase of the ruling Social Democrat Party (PSD) and Bucharest mayor Traian Basescu, who leads the center-right Justice and Truth alliance.
Neither Nastase nor Basescu are expected to win an outright majority in today's first-round ballot. But both are expected to get enough votes to face each other in a second-round runoff vote in two weeks.
Analysts say the presidential vote is not expected to change the key elements of Romania's foreign policy. That's because Nastase and Basescu both advocate close ties with the United States and taking Romania into the European Union in 2007.
In the final days of campaigning, Nastase told Romanians that he is the candidate of modernization and European integration. Nastase repeated that message after casting his own ballot today, telling reporters that his policies will bring prosperity for all Romanians.
Outgoing President Iliescu is running for the upper house of parliament under the banner of the Social Democratic Party.
''I voted for a very simple cause -- a Romania that is free of poverty," Nastase said. "The rest are just details.''
Basescu told voters during his campaign that Romania needs to rid itself of what he called "the mafia-like, corrupt system that has governed it during the past four years."
After casting his ballot, Basescu told journalists to be wary of exit polls that may not be scientifically valid and which could influence the outcome of the ballot:
"'They must be very careful," Basescu said. "They can trigger more problems than they think. They have to leave people to express their will. Not to use their schemes -- which has been done before.''
Romania's election commission says early turnout was low today with about 10 percent of some 18 million eligible voters casting ballots by noon.
In the parliamentary elections, Nastase's Social Democrat Party and Basescu's Justice and Truth alliance also were expected to do well. Each is expected to win 35 to 40 percent of the vote. But neither is expected to win an absolute majority in parliament.
One possible swing vote in parliament could be the Democratic Union of Magyars [Hungarians] of Romania, which was expected to win about 5 percent of the vote. That party's leadership has said it will ally itself with the party that wins the most seats in parliament.
The extreme right-wing party Greater Romania -- which came second in the last elections -- is expected to win about 12 percent of the parliamentary vote. But that party is not expected to be accepted into a coalition with Nastase's Social Democrats because of recent criticisms it has raised against Nastase.
Iliescu is not allowed to seek another term as president. Instead, the 74-year-old outgoing president is running for the upper house of the legislature under the banner of the Social Democratic Party.
Iliescu has been one of the dominant political figures in Romania since the ouster and killing of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989.