Romania's pro-EU incumbent President Klaus Iohannis has won the first round of the country's presidential election, according to first partial official results.
The Central Electoral Bureau (BEC) said on November 11 that after the counting of almost 96 percent of the vote, Iohannis, backed by the governing center-right National Liberal Party (PNL), took first with 36.91 percent of the vote, and will face recently ousted Prime Minister Viorica Dancila, the leader of leftist Social Democratic Party (PSD) in a November 24 runoff.
Dancila garnered 23.45 percent of the vote on November 10 amid the lowest turnout in Romania's postcommunist presidential elections -- less than 48 percent of the more than 18 million registered voters.
Dan Barna, who heads Romania's third-largest party -- the center-right Save Romania Union (USR), finished third with 14.91 percent of the vote -- a result seen as disappointing compared to the 22 percent that USR won in the May elections for the European Parliament.
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.
USR supporters, mostly young, educated professionals, had voiced hope that Barna would turn the tables on Dancila and deny the PSD -- which many consider the direct heir to the "communist nomenklatura" -- a place in the presidential runoff for the first time since the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu's regime in December 1989.
In stark contrast with the low turnout in the country, the Romanian diaspora voted in record numbers at polling stations abroad, casting more than 675,000 ballots.
The final results from abroad will take several days to count, but provisional results show Iohannis taking some 53 percent of that vote, followed by Barna with 27 percent.
The diaspora has traditionally voted for center-right candidates.
At a joint news conference with Ciolos on November 11, Barna took responsibility for his weaker-than-expected showing, but refused to resign. Ciolos in turn urged USR-PLUS supporters to vote for Iohannis in the runoff.
Iohannis's candidacy was supported by the ruling PNL that he once headed and which now leads the newly installed minority government of Prime Minister Ludovic Orban.
"A big step ahead," Iohannis told his cheering supporters late on November 10.
"Millions in the country and in the diaspora have voted for a normal Romania and for a change for the better; I've always believed in Romanians and in democracy," Iohannis said, but added that "this is not yet the decisive step, we still have work to do."
Iohannis has been seen by many as the bulwark of resistance against the all-out assault that the PSD-led coalition waged on the judiciary and the rule of law from early in 2017 until last month, when Dancila's cabinet was finally toppled in a no-confidence vote in parliament.
Iohannis has said he wants to put an end to corruption -- Romania's endemic problem since the fall of communism three decades ago.
He has vowed to continue strengthening the rule of law "in order to eliminate the toxic interventions [of the politicians] in the past years."
Making it to the second round is seen as a personal victory for Dancila, the 55-year-old ex-prime minister, who said she would have resigned as PSD leader if she'd lost in the first round.
Emboldened by her showing, Dancila on November 11 challenged Iohannis to a direct televised debate ahead of the runoff. Neither took part in any debates ahead of the first round.
The PSD is Romania's largest political party but is in disarray after years of corruption scandals.
There have been internal battles within the PSD over who should lead the party following her ouster as head of government.
Dancila was elected president of the PSD following former leader Liviu Dragnea's imprisonment for corruption in May.
Until his sentencing, Dragnea had been considered Romania's most powerful and influential politician.
Romania, a member of the European Union and NATO, is seen as one of the most corrupt European countries.
In a report last month, the European Commission slammed Bucharest for backsliding on judicial reforms and fighting corruption.