BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's opposition Social Democrats (PSD) were a hair's breadth ahead of the Liberals in a poll published on Thursday, only six months after the party resigned from government after massive street protests.
Romania is due to hold a local election in June and a parliamentary election in late 2016, having been governed by a technocrat government led by Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos since the November upheaval.
The survey conducted by polling institute INSCOP showed 38 percent of voters said they would support the PSD at the next election, up from 36.3 percent in November.
The centrist Liberals would get 37.2 percent of the vote, down from 40.1 in November, according to the poll, which was commissioned by newspaper Adevarul and has an error margin of 3 percent.
Last November, tens of thousands of protesters across the country demanded resignations from officials over a deadly fire in a Bucharest nightclub that killed 64. Anger at corruption among officials was already at boiling point.
Whichever party gets into power would need to rein in spending. The European Commission has forecast that Romania's budget deficit will overshoot the mandatory 3 percent of GDP ceiling next year as a result of already enforced public sector wage hikes and planned further tax cuts.
The polls showed that other parties likely to get the 5-percent threshold to enter parliament are ALDE, a PSD ally, and PMP led by former president Traian Basescu, as well as the ethnic Hungarian party UDMR.
"This confirms our view of a neck-and-neck race," ING Bank said in a research note. "The PSD is likely to win the local election ... which would give it an important advantage in the general elections, especially in rural and small-town areas."
"We reiterate that in terms of economic and external policies there are no major differences between the two major parties and fiscal consolidation is likely to be the theme for 2017 regardless of the election result."
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)