Romanians vote on Sunday to choose their next president, with Social Democrat and current prime minister Victor Ponta the overwhelming favourite to win.
Ponta, 42, goes into the second round of votes with 54 per cent support, according to the latest opinion polls, clearly ahead of his conservative opponent, Klaus Iohannis.
Everything seems to be in the former lawyer’s favour to ensure victory. Ponta has the political experience, the support of the hugely influential Romanian Orthodox Church and a boost from the strengthening economy.
At the same Iohannis, from Romania’s ethnic German minority, seems uncomfortable in front of the cameras, and has faced accusations he is a not a “real Romanian”.
In the first round of voting on November 2, Ponta finished first with 40 percent of the vote, while his conservative rival took 30 percent.
But one thing, claim experts, could halt Ponta’s chances of clinching the presidency: turnout.
Turnout was 52 percent in the first round.
Another great unknown is the vote of the diaspora, which numbers about three million people.
Only 160,000 were able to cast their ballots in the first round, however, due to an insufficient number of polling stations in countries including France, Germany and Britain.
But of those, 46 percent voted for Iohannis and 15.8 percent for Ponta — suggesting the vote of those abroad could be a major factor going into the runoff.
– Crucial test –
The vote is seen as pivotal for the former communist country at a time when democracy has suffered setbacks in some neighbouring states such as Hungary, and as the Ukraine crisis has shaken relations between the European Union and Russia.
The election campaign has been marred by scandal, with numerous corruption probes including some aimed at allies of the prime minister, and a settling of scores between Ponta and his long-standing rival President Traian Basescu.
The popular centre-right Basescu, who has accused Ponta of being a former spy, cannot run for a third term. He and Ponta have shared two stormy years at the top of Romanian politics.
Whoever takes over the presidency will face pressing issues including recession and persistent accusations of corruption and bad governance.
If Ponta wins it will concentrate powers in the hands of the Social Democrats, which is also the largest party in parliament.
Iohannis, 55, has in turn promised to strengthen the rule of law and to attract more foreign capital to Romania.
Romania’s head of state is responsible for foreign policy and top-level appointments such as prosecutors in the second poorest EU country after Bulgaria.
The polls open at 0700 local time (0500 GMT) and close at 2100 (1900 GMT). First results are expected overnight Sunday.