Romania’s parliamentary election appeared too close to call, with exit polls released Sunday evening showing a dead-heat between the governing liberals and the left-wing opposition.
While Prime Minister Ludovic Orban claimed victory for his center-right National Liberal Party (PNL) despite the close call, another poll showed the left-wing Social Democrats (PSD) gaining a slim lead.
“Talks to form a majority … won’t be long … this country needs a government as soon as possible,” Orban told supporters, adding that his party had four potential coalition partners to form a majority.
One exit poll put PNL at 32%, with the PSD garnering 28%. Another exit poll showed a different outcome, putting the PSD, who have dominated Romanian politics since the fall of communism in 1989, ahead at 30.5%. The PNL was set to gain 29%.
Coming in third place in both polls with 16% was the progressive USR-PLUS Alliance, a mix of pro-EU technocrats and social justice and anti-corruption activists.
The first official results are due to be released later on Sunday night.
Low voter turnout
Over 18 million Romanians were eligible to vote, although turnout dipped to historic lows in part due to concerns over becoming infected with the coronavirus.
Polling stations required voters to wear masks, maintain social distancing and sanitize their hands — but no additional virus precautions were put in place.
By Sunday afternoon, only a quarter of those who were eligible to vote had cast their ballots, according to data released by Romania’s Central Election Bureau.
The data put voter turnout at 33%, a record low for a parliamentary election in the country.
What could happen next?
Should the PNL continue to hold on to its lead, the pro-European party would be on track to become the largest party in Romania’s 465-seat bicameral parliament for the first time in 30 years.
The PNL would still fall short of a governing majority, with analysts predicting that the party could try to seek a coalition with the USR-PLUS Alliance.
The PNL and the USR-PLUS Alliance campaigned on promises to reform Romania’s civil service and bolster the country’s public health and education systems.
The Social Democrats (PSD) won the previous election in 2016 by a landslide, but the party faced massive anti-corruption protests and disputes with the EU over controversial judicial reforms and graft scandals.
The PNL took the reins of a rocky minority government a year ago after the Social Democrats ran through three prime ministers and dozens of minister reshuffles.