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Romanians Go To Polls With President Iohannis In Driver's Seat

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Romanian President Klaus Iohannis speaks to reporters after casting his ballot at a polling station in Bucharest on November 10.

More than 8.5 million Romanians have voted so far in a presidential election that is expected to bolster recent gains for the ruling National Liberal Party (PNL) by returning that center-right party's former leader, pro-European Union incumbent Klaus Iohannis, to the presidency.

The Central Election Bureau said 47.1 percent of the country's 18 million or so registered voters had cast ballots by 8 p.m. local time on November 10 -- one hour before polls were due to close.

Voting among Romanian expats began two days ago in a race whose 14 candidates also include the recently ousted prime minister, Social Democratic Party (PSD) leader Viorica Dancila.

Opinion polls suggest Iohannis will receive about 40 percent of the vote -- about twice as many ballots as his closest rivals but not enough to secure him an outright victory in the first round.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the first-round vote, a second round of voting will take place on November 24.

Iohannis's candidacy is supported by the PNL that he once headed and which now leads the newly installed minority government of Prime Minister Ludovic Orban.

Iohannis was accompanied by senior PNL leaders when he turned up to vote at a Bucharest polling station on November 10.

"I voted for a normal Romania," Iohannis told reporters, echoing a campaign phrase. He called it "an extremely important day for Romania, but also, I admit, for me."

"I wish a very good future for Romania and I hope to receive confirmation today that many Romanians want the same thing," he said.

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At least 300,000 Romanian expats had already cast ballots at more than 800 polling places abroad, the Central Election Bureau said early on election day.

Iohannis says he wants to modernize Romania's state institutions to prevent the kind of corruption scandals the country has faced for years.

He has vowed to continue strengthening the rule of law and to support anti-corruption measures, particularly within the judiciary, "in order to eliminate the toxic interventions of the past years."

For Iohannis, the big question on November 10 is who will be picked to run against him in the expected second-round ballot.

Three of the 13 other candidates are seen as having a chance of winning second place.

Dancila, who had been Romania's prime minister until last month when she was ousted by a parliamentary vote of no confidence, told supporters she voted "for a safe and dignified Romania."

"I voted against austerity, against the cutting of pensions and salaries," she said.

The PSD is Romania’s largest political party but is in disarray after years of corruption scandals.

Even among voters from her own party, Dancila could struggle for support because of internal battles within the PSD over who should lead the party following her ouster as head of government.

Dancila was closely followed in pre-election opinion polls by Dan Barna.

Barna is a 44-year-old lawyer who heads Romania’s third largest party -- the center-right Save Romania Union (USR) -- and whose allies are similarly pro-EU politicians who'd been in the opposition against the PSD-led government until Dancila's recent ouster.

Barna's USR has formed an electoral alliance with Romania's centrist Liberty, Unity, and Solidarity Party (PLUS), which was founded in 2018 by former Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos.

At a Sibiu polling station on November 10, Barna stressed the inclusion in the current vote of "the post-1989 generation."

"Here is the power of the citizens," Barna said. "Express your faith for the future of Romania, whatever that faith is."

Independent candidate Mircea Diaconu, a former actor and theater director who was a participant in Romania's revolution against dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's regime, is a popular enough figure to be considered a contender, but he is seen as a long shot.

Although he does not currently have any official party affiliation, Diaconu’s candidacy is supported by the so-called One Man electoral alliance -- which groups together members of social-liberal PRO Romania political party and the liberal Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE).

ALDE had been a coalition partner of Dancila's PSD government but withdrew its support in August, paving the way for the ouster of her administration in October.

With reporting by AP and RFE/RL's Romanian Service
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