Romania's ruling centrist National Liberal Party (PNL) was on pace for gains in local elections, exit polls showed on September 27, in a vote seen as a key test for the country’s minority-led government.
Around 19 million eligible voters chose local officials, council presidents, and mayors to fill more than 43,000 positions across the European Union member. Originally planned for June, the election was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Although official results won't be known until September 28, Prime Minister Ludovic Orban, whose PNL has controlled Romania's minority government since October 2019, described the election as "a clear victory" against the deeply entrenched Social Democrat Party (PSD).
In what would be a major political shake-up, exit polls showed PSD lost control of the capital, Bucharest, for the first time since 2008.
Mathematician and activist Nicusor Dan had a comfortable 47.8 percent lead over incumbent Mayor Gabriela Firea's 38.2 percent.
Dan is backed by his USR-PLUS party, but also by the PNL.
"Everything we established in the campaign and after remains standing," Orban said alongside Dan as results rolled in. "Today, the government has a serious partner in city hall."
The PSD won the 2016 general elections but lost power last year in a parliamentary no-confidence vote after trying to push through controversial judicial reforms despite warnings from Brussels and street protests. The party has also been tarred by corruption scandals.
The PSD remains the strongest party in Romania's parliament, despite losing its governing majority.
The local elections are viewed as a bellwether for national polls in December.
Orban claimed his party won about 1,500 mayoral races across the country, or about 50 percent of all localities.
Until the local elections, the PSD had 55 percent of Romania's mayors, while the PNL controlled about 33 percent of localities.
"It's the first time we defeat the Social Democrats, and it's so decisively," Orban said. "This creates premises for a Liberal-led government for the next four years."
Romania's Ruling Liberal Party Claims 'Clear Victory' In Local Elections