Press play to listen to this article
BUCHAREST — Romania’s center-right Prime Minister Ludovic Orban looks set to remain in power after a tight election Sunday, despite a possible second-place finish and historically low turnout amid the pandemic, an exit poll shows.
The exit poll, conducted by CURS Avangarde, showed Orban’s National Liberal Party (PNL) on course to win 29 percent of the vote, behind the center-left Social Democratic Party (PSD) at 30.5 percent. But Orban is expected to form a majority government with the liberal USR-PLUS party, which is set to win 16 percent.
The exit polls did not account for votes cast by Romania’s significant diaspora, most of which are expected to go to the USR-PLUS and PNL.
“We believe we have won the election, and we expect the final results to show this,” Orban said after polls closed, calling for coalition negotiations to start “as soon as possible.”
PNL MEP Siegfried Mureșan said at the party’s main office that while exit polls show a close race, “there is a clear move to a pro-justice and pro-European Romania.” Mureșan added: “I am confident, when the votes are counted, PNL and Ludovic Orban will have a strong mandate to lead us forward.”
Cristian Ghinea, an MEP from USR-PLUS, said his party would be “happy to enter government but first, we need to agree a clear roadmap with the PNL, to lay a solid foundation for the future.” Ghinea, who will be part of his party’s negotiating team, added: “We won’t jump on any Cabinet seat PNL ministers decide to take their backpacks off of … We want important ministries which give us the ability to make serious reform. Our political destiny is at stake.”
PSD leader Marcel Ciolacu was quick to declare that his party remains the most popular in the country. “We have won the election,” he said.
The coronavirus, which has pushed Romania’s health care system nearly to breaking point, also appeared to deal a blow to election turnout, which dipped to 31.84 percent — the lowest in any parliamentary poll since the fall of communism in 1989.
Far-right nationalists from the Alliance for the Unity of Romanians also got a boost from corona-skeptics and anti-vaxxers amid the pandemic, reaching 5.2 percent of the vote and therefore passing the threshold to enter parliament for the first time.
President Klaus Iohannis must formally trigger the start of coalition talks via an invitation to the parties most likely to form a government, and will also choose a prime minister based on this assessment.