BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's left-leaning Social Democrats have easily won parliamentary elections a year after a major anti-corruption drive forced the last Socialist prime minister from power, near-final results released Monday showed.
The chairman of the Social Democrats, Liviu Dragnea, who spoke Sunday after exit polls appeared, 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."
His Social Democratic Party won about 46 percent of the vote with the center-right Liberals coming second with over 20 percent. Liberal Party chairman Alina Gorghiu resigned Monday over the poor result.
Dragnea got a two-year suspended prison sentence in April for voter fraud for inflating voter numbers in a July 2012 referendum to impeach then-President Traian Basescu. The outcome of Sunday's ballot raised questions about the future of Romania's anti-corruption fight.
Under a 2001 law, Dragnea is not allowed to be appointed prime minister because of the conviction, and last week he said the party would not try to change the law. However, he told Romania TV Monday that he had not ruled himself out as a future premier.
President Klaus Iohannis has said he will not nominate a premier who has been convicted or who is a subject of a corruption investigation.
Political scientist Cristian Parvulescu said Romania was at risk of backpedaling on its anti-corruption fight which has seen dozens of senior officials successfully prosecuted in recent years.
Dan Brett, an associate professor at the Open University who comments on Romania, noted the Social Democrats, Romania's largest party, have a loyal party base.
"'They might be corrupt bastards but they are our corrupt bastards' is perhaps the best way to describe how local imperatives explain why voters vote the way they do," Brett said.
However, the leader of the Save Romania Union, a new party that ran on an anti-corruption ticket and finished third, on Monday pledged to continue to fight graft. Nicusor Dan said party would act on behalf of ordinary people. "We will be intransigent with any act of corruption and abuse," he said.
Turnout for the election was low, at just 39.5 percent, more than two percentage points less than the 2012 parliamentary elections.
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. Romania is currently run by a government of technocrats headed by Premier Dacian Ciolos, a former European Union agriculture commissioner.