Romanians began voting in their presidential election on Sunday with incumbent Klaus Iohannis likely to need a runoff to secure a second term.
Polls suggest the 60-year-old centrist liberal will receive some 40% support but will lack the absolute majority needed in the first round to guarantee his continued tenure.
That would mean a runoff on November 24 with either of the two other main candidates, Social Democrats' (PSD) leader Viorica Dancila and the center-right Dan Barna from the Save Romanian Union party.
Read more: German eyes mayor's office in Romania's third-largest city
A dozen rivals for top job
The pair are leading a pack of 13 challengers, but both have just 20% support, according to the latest opinion polls. A third rival, actor and independent candidate Mircea Diaconu, has about 8% support.
Iohannis, an anti-graft policymaker who has won praise in the West for his commitment to the rule of law, is widely seen as winning any second-round vote.
Dancila was prime minister until last month when her PSD was ousted in a no-confidence voteover corruption allegations. Last week, parliament approved a new transitional minority government of new PM Ludovic Orban of the centrist National Liberal Party. Orban will steer the country towards a general election next year.
Read more: Bulgaria and Romania hope to win back planned Turkish VW plant
President has veto powers
Romania's president is more than a ceremonial role. The president is commander in chief of the armed forces, nominates a prime minister — who has executive powers — and can veto laws adopted by parliament.
Observers said a win for Iohannis might bolster the National Liberal Party's chance of forming a stronger coalition after next year's parliamentary election and restore investor confidence eroded by several years of political instability and high levels of public spending.
Romania has faced European Union monitoring over progress on reform of its judiciary since 2007. But, a succession of PSD governments has tried to roll back certain anti-corruption rules in recent years, joining the ranks of other ex-communist states in the bloc in incurring criticism over the rule of law.
Read more: EU slams Romania for not tackling corruption
Iohannis, who won his first term as president in 2014, had challenged the contested overhaul of the judiciary and attempts to limit magistrates' independence.
He also spearheaded a national referendum where an overwhelming majority of Romanians said they wanted the government to be banned from altering legislation via emergency decrees, and advocated a national ban on granting amnesties and pardons for graft-related crimes.
Just over 18.2 million voters are eligible to cast their ballots until 8 p.m. local time (1800 UTC). Projections based on exit polls are expected shortly after that.
mm/aw (dpa, Reuters)
Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.