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Ponta leads Romanian presidential vote

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta is set to win the first round of the country's presidential election. Exit polls show that the Socialist party leader is set to take between 38 percent and 40 percent of the vote.

Exit polls showed on Sunday that Victor Ponta, Romania's Socialist prime minister, was on course to win the first round of the country's presidential election.

The four polls suggested that Ponta would garner between 38 percent and 40 percent of the vote, followed by Klaus Iohannis, the leader of the center-right National-Liberal Party and mayor of the Transylvanian city of Sibiu, who was estimated to have garnered between 31 percent and 32 percent of the vote.

Earlier opinion polls implied that none of the remaining 12 candidates had enough support to provide serious competition in the race to replace out-going Independent President Traian Basescu.

Corruption fears

The 42-year-old Ponta has pledged to reduce taxes and raise pensions while also stressing the need to maintain good relations with both the EU and China. He also recently announced an increase of 10 percent in wages in the medical sector, further boosting his popularity.

Throughout the election campaign, Ponta also focused largely on the issue of corruption, despite facing accusations himself that he had put pressure on prosecutors investigating his political allies on suspicion of corruption.

Ponta's critics have also expressed fears that if he wins the election, he could use the post of president, which is otherwise largely ceremonial, to influence the appointment of prosecutors, thus giving him power over the judiciary.

In light of the country's persistent problems with corruption and organized crime, the EU has been tightly monitoring Romania's judicial system since it joined the EU in 2007.

ksb/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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