BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — The left-leaning Social Democrats took a big lead early Monday in partial results from Romania's parliamentary elections a year after a major anti-corruption drive forced the last Socialist prime minister from power.
Election authorities said that with 44 percent of the votes from Sunday's balloting counted, the Social Democratic Party held about 47 percent and the center-right Liberals were second with just under 21 percent.
Exit polls pointed to similar results, and the chairman of the Social Democrats, Liviu Dragnea, greeted the news cautiously, saying he was "quite satisfied" and "overwhelmed" by what the exit polls predicted.
Saying he hoped there would be no conflict over the results, Dragnea said: "There should be no doubt who won the elections. Romanians want to feel at home in their own country and I want Romania to be a good home for all Romanians."
The exit polls predicted the Save Romania Union, a new party that ran on an anti-corruption ticket, would finish in third, allowing it to enter Parliament.
Save Romania Union leader Nicusor Dan called the exit poll forecast "a victory for Romanian democracy," noting people had left their jobs to volunteer to set up the party, which was created in February.
Dragnea got a two-year suspended prison sentence for voter fraud in April for inflating voter numbers in a July 2012 referendum to impeach then President Traian Basescu.
At the time Dragnea's party was pushing a populist tone, but on Sunday he sought to strike a conciliatory note, saying he wanted to end bitter divisions in the country.
He also said Romania would respect its international strategic and economic commitments. "Romania is an island of stability in the region," he said.
Final turnout for Sunday's election was about 39.5 percent, more than two points less than the parliamentary elections in 2012.
Former Prime Minister Victor Ponta, already the subject of a corruption probe, resigned after mass protests following a nightclub fire in October 2015 that killed 64 people. The country is currently run by a government of technocrats headed by Premier Dacian Ciolos, a former European Union agriculture commissioner.
The country of about 19 million people is one of the poorest in the European Union and perceived as one of the most corrupt.