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Romanians cast ballots in municipal races

Romanians have voted in municipal elections, with exit polls predicting big gains for leftist candidates. The vote was held under a shadow of corruption as scores of candidates have been indicted on graft charges.

Citizens in the eastern European nation voted Sunday for local officials in administrations that are plagued by systemic corruption.

A major drive against corruption is underway, and Romania's anti-corruption agency successfully prosecuted an unprecedented 1,250 cases, including a former prime minister and five former ministers.

But officials who have been indicted on corruption charges but not convicted are not barred from seeking office. And according to Romania's anti-corruption prosecutors' office, more than 100 mayors, deputy mayors, county council presidents and vice presidents were indicted on corruption charges last year.

Leftist alliance pulls ahead

Rumänien Kommunalwahlen 2016 Gabriele Firea

Exit polls showed leftist Gabriela Firea, a 43-year-old former journalist, winning the capital's mayor's seat. Her party also won at least five of the capital's six districts

In the capital, Bucharest, exit polls projected victory for former journalist Gabriela Firea, who received around 42 percent of the vote. She was cross-endorsed by the leftist alliance of the Social Democrats and the National Union for the Progress of Romania.

Romania's largest city has been run by an interim mayor since former mayor Sorin Oprescu was arrested last year on suspicion of taking bribes in exchange for awarding municipal contracts.

The turnout was just over 48 percent, according to estimates, down from 56 percent in the 2012 elections.

The country has been at a political standstill since a devastating nightclub fire in Bucharest that killed 64 people and forced the downfall of the corruption-tainted administration of longtime Prime Minister Victor Ponta.

Romania, one of Europe's poorest countries, is being run by a cabinet of technocrats until a parliamentary vote at the end of the year.

jar/bw (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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