Radu Sigheti / Reuters

Romania’s PM concedes defeat in runoff

Klaus Iohannis, the mayor of Sibiu, defeats Victor Ponta, who had been favored to win the presidential race

Romania's prime minister has conceded defeat in an extremely close presidential runoff against an ethnic German Transylvanian mayor.

Prime minister Victor Ponta had been the favorite to win, but he was narrowly edged out by Klaus Iohannis, the mayor of Sibiu, who promised a crackdown on corruption and whose campaign was backed by two center-right parties.

Iohannis will replace President Traian Basescu, who is stepping down after 10 years. Basescu and Ponta feuded often, which stymied policymaking.

Ponta said on Sunday night he had congratulated Iohannis.

"We are a democratic country," Ponta said outside the headquarters of his Social Democratic Party two hours after polls closed. "The people are always right."

With one-third of the votes counted, Iohannis was leading with 56 percent of the vote, while Ponta had 44 percent, authorities said early Monday. Iohannis turned round a 10-point deficit to win the runoff, as widespread anger at voting problems overseas appeared to galvanize the anti-Ponta camp.

Official results are expected later in the day.

Analysts had said that victory for Ponta might have helped make Romania a more stable nation, with the main levers of power held by one bloc. By contrast, Iohannis' win could trigger renewed political tensions in one of Europe's poorest states.

Backed by a well-oiled party machine, Ponta had led opinion polls throughout the campaign and comfortably beat Iohannis in the first round election on Nov. 2. He had the support of the influential Romanian Orthodox Church and had received a boost from the strengthening economy.

Despite the loss, Ponta ruled out quitting as prime minister and said his Social Democrat alliance would remain in power until parliamentary elections which are due in 2016.

The office of president was created under Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1974 and is a powerful position, with the holder able to appoint the prime minister, judges and prosecutors — and also stall government policy proposals.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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