Incumbent President Traian Basescu, was headed for victory in a tight presidential runoff in Romania, election authorities said on Monday, in an election Romanians hope will pull the country out of its worst political and economic crisis in 20 years.
With 99.13 percent of the vote counted, election authorities said centrist Mr. Basescu polled 50.37 percent of the votes, while former foreign minister Mircea Geoana, received 49.62 percent. Final results are expected later on Monday.
Both Mr. Basescu and Mr. Geoana claimed victory late Sunday after polls closed. Three exit polls gave Mr. Geoana, a Socialist, a slight lead.
Mr. Geoana, a leader of the Social Democrats who has branded himself a unifier and team builder, declared himself the winner on Sunday, calling exit poll results “a victory for normalcy, a victory for decency, for all citizens who want a better life.”
But Mr. Basescu claimed the exit polls were deceptive.
“You will see the manipulations on the television stations . . . Today you can trust me fully when I tell you I won,” he said.
There was no immediate reaction early Monday to official results that apparently reversed the predictions of the opinion polls. Mr. Geoana’s Social Democrats said they were doing a parallel count of the votes.
Klaus Johannis, the mayor of the city of Sibiu - who Mr. Geoana had said he would appoint prime minister if he won the race - appeared to concede defeat early Monday. “It seems this chapter is closed. I won’t be coming to Bucharest any longer.”
Adriean Videanu, a senior member of the Democratic Liberals who supported Mr. Basescu, said “Basescu is the new president of Romania. He won with his ally, the Romanian citizen. They defeated the greatest ever alliance against them” since communism was overthrown.
The country faces skyrocketing unemployment and a limping government since the ruling coalition fell apart two months ago amid party squabbling.
Romania is seeking to unlock a euro1.5 billion ($2 billion) International Monetary Fund bailout loan to pull it out of its deep recession but is unlikely to get one this year due to its political instability.
Mr. Basescu, 58, had seen his popularity drop this year due to the economic downturn and political feuding, but still enjoys support, especially in rural areas and among the working class. He is a formidable fighter, feuding bitterly with all the political parties in recent years except for the Liberal Democrats he used to lead.
Mr. Basescu argues that he will modernize and reform Romania, saying much of the economy is under the control of corrupt oligarchs and media moguls with whom he links Mr. Geoana, a charge that has resonated with voters amid Romania’s economic woes.
Mr. Geoana, 51, who served as Romania’s ambassador to the U.S. and then as foreign minister, heads the Social Democratic Party, the successor to the Communist Party that ruled for more than 40 years until the 1989 anti-communist revolt.
He styles himself as a modern Social Democrat, with former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair his political role models. He lacks Mr. Basescu’s popular appeal but is seen as a clever negotiator.
Mr. Geoana polled slightly lower than Mr. Basescu in the first round but was ahead in the most recent opinion poll after getting support from conservative rival Crin Antonescu, who won 20 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential race.