By Radu-Sorin Marinas
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's leftist Social Democrats (PSD) have emerged as the leading party in local elections, partial official results showed on Monday, bolstering their chances of returning to government after a national ballot due in December.
Central electoral bureau results from more than half of polling stations showed the PSD had won 43 percent of votes in mayoral elections, followed by the centrist Liberal Party (PNL) with 34 percent. A small PSD ally - ALDE - got about 6 percent.
The vote shows a resurgence in support for the PSD, whose government led by Victor Ponta resigned last November amid nationwide street protests following a deadly night club fire in Bucharest.
The fire had reignited concerns over widespread official corruption, with many blaming Ponta's government for not doing enough to tackle the problem. Romania is currently run by a caretaker government of technocrats with a limited one-year mandate that runs until the December parliamentary election
Political analysts had said voters were likely to focus on local problems and overlook corruption as a national issue in the municipal polls. A change in Romania's electoral rules eliminating runoff rounds if no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote also bolstered the PSD's result, they said.
"The PSD has the highest chance to win parliamentary elections unless a major development that resets the whole political game occurs," said Sorin Ionita, an expert in public administration reform with think-tank Expert Forum.
Data compiled by Reuters showed around a third of some 350 local officials put under investigation or sent to trial since 2012 had run for office on Sunday. It was not yet clear on Monday how many had succeeded.
Before Sunday's election, the PSD had about 1,600 mayors across Romania, about half of the total number of 3,200.
Local elections matter in Romania - one of the European Union's poorest members - as municipal officials control a total budget of 67 billion lei ($17 billion), or about a third of state budget revenues, and have access to EU development funds.
Spending that cash helps to bolster public support for the party associated with the local officials who manage it, particularly in impoverished regions, analysts say.
"It's obvious, the party that holds most city halls controls most of the money, access to cash and investment," Ionita said.
The leftists, who have governed nationally for about 17 years in various alliances since the fall of communism in 1989, favor higher social spending and wants to re-introduce progressive taxation. Romania currently levies a flat income tax.
(Editing by Gareth Jones)