Millions of Romanians have gone to polls in local elections amid fears the coronavirus pandemic could sink turnout to unprecedented lows.
President Klaus Iohannis had sought to reassure the country’s 19 million eligible voters that safety measures in place meant casting their ballot “is no more dangerous than going shopping”.
Some 43,000 seats are up for grabs in municipalities, local and county councils.
According to Romania’s Permanent Electoral Authority, the public body charged with overseeing the voting process, turnout for the previous local elections in 2016 stood at a historically low 48 per cent.
Sunday’s voting takes place amid a rising number of new cases in the southeastern European nation. Earlier in the week Romania recorded 1,767 new Covid-19 infections in one day, the highest number since the start of the pandemic.
Romania has so far reported more than 122,000 coronavirus cases and 4,700 deaths.
Polling stations were providing disinfectant and allowing a maximum of five voters in at once, leading to complains over long queues on social media. Voters were required to wear face masks and keep a distance of at least one metre from each other.
Political pundits predicted a low turnout would favour larger political parties, those well-rooted locally, and incumbents.
Many eyes were on Bucharest, Romania’s capital and largest city, where the incumbent Social Democrat mayor, Gabriela Firea, is going against Nicuşor Dan, a former civil society activist backed by a centre-right coalition of parties.
The elections are the first that come after years of political turmoil and anti-corruption protests against the ex-ruling Social Democrat Party (PSD), ousted from government following a no-confidence vote in late 2019.
They will also be regarded as a test on the government’s handling of the pandemic, and lay the groundwork for the general elections due on 6 December.
The current ruling National Liberal Party is ahead in recent polls.