(Bloomberg) -- Romanian President Klaus Iohannis won the first round of presidential elections to set up a runoff in two weeks against a former prime minister with whom he’s frequently clashed.
Iohannis, who’s been a steadying force in a nation where political chaos has become the norm, won about 37% of votes in Sunday’s election, according to preliminary results. Social Democrat leader Viorica Dancila, whose government was ousted last month, was some way back with about 23%. The turnout was 47.66%.
“Our battle doesn’t have a party name but it’s aimed at totally removing the Social Democrats from power so they can no longer hold Romania captive and make it a prisoner of the past,” Iohannis said after voting ended. “We have one more fight in this war in two weeks’ time.”
Dancila is one of the five prime ministers to have come and gone since Iohannis was elected in 2014, during which time Bucharest has seen its biggest protests since communism collapsed three decades ago. The unrest was sparked by Social Democrat attempts to ease punishments for crooked officials and keep their party’s leader out of prison. Its reforms raised similar rule-of-law concerns to those that have turned Hungary and Poland into villains in Brussels.
Iohannis, 60, helped repel and delay legislation long enough that the ruling-party boss was eventually convicted and sent to prison. After replacing him, Dancila halted the plans, avoiding the risk of European Union sanctions, before she was toppled.
Facing Dancila, Romania’s first female prime minister and the first woman to make it to the second round of a presidential election, is likely to be easier for Iohannis than a contest with third-placed Dan Barna, an anti-corruption newcomer whose voters will probably switch to the incumbent in the deciding ballot.
Late Sunday, Barna -- who scored about 16% in the exit polls -- hadn’t given up on reaching the runoff himself, saying the diaspora weren’t included in those surveys but the official results showed his score at about 14%. At least three million Romanians live abroad as the country’s population has slipped to below 20 million.
“Iohannis’s chances are close to 100% unless something significant and totally unexpected happens,” said Andrei Taranu, deputy dean at the Political Science University in Bucharest.
That’s despite the fact his first term wasn’t a total success. Critics say he was unable to curb government spending that’s pushed the budget deficit toward EU limits. Nor could he stop the Social Democrats from firing anti-graft crusader Laura Codruta Kovesi, who was recently appointed as the bloc’s first top prosecutor.
The EU said in October it would maintain judicial monitoring of the country, which has been in place since Romania joined in 2007, keeping it out of the passport-free Schengen area.
Iohannis recently helped his ally, Liberal Party head Ludovic Orban, take charge of the new government. He may also lead Romania through its first-ever snap elections early next year.
(Updates with preliminary results from second paragraph.)
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