BUCHAREST, Romania – Romanians go to the polls Sunday to elect a new leader as President Traian Basescu steps down after 10 years. Prime Minister Victor Ponta is favored to win over challengers who include a city mayor and a glamorous lawyer. Here's a look at this Balkan nation's vote:
WHO ARE ROMANIA'S ALLIES?
Romania, a nation of 19 million, joined the European Union in 2007 and is a staunch ally of the United States, which has an anti-missile defense shield in the town of Deveselu. Romanians are traditionally anti-Russian. Opponents say Ponta will cozy up to Russian President Vladimir Putin if he wins; he denies it.
WHAT DOES ROMANIA'S PRESIDENT ACTUALLY DO?
The president is in charge of defense and foreign policy, names the chiefs of the country's two main intelligence agencies as well as top prosecutors and ambassadors. The prestige and influence of the post go far beyond its formal description. If no candidate secures an absolute majority Sunday there will be a runoff on Nov. 16.
WHY ISN'T CORRUPTION A BIGGER ISSUE?
Corruption does not appear to be a major voter concern even though Romania is one of the most corrupt nations in the 28-member EU. Anti-graft crusader Monica Macovei is trailing in fourth place. Analysts say Romanians are confident the anti-corruption fight is progressing well. A former prime minister, lawmakers, soccer club bosses and media tycoons have been imprisoned on corruption charges. Even Basescu's brother has been under arrest since June on suspicion of taking a bribe from a man convicted of attempted murder.
THE FRONT RUNNER
Ponta, the 42-year-old prime minister, is an ex-prosecutor whose popularity appears not to have been badly damaged by corruption probes of senior members of his Social Democratic Party. Among his pledges are lower taxes, higher pensions, good relations with both the EU and China and even a referendum on the monarchy.
— Klaus Iohannis, mayor of the medieval city of Sibiu since 2000, says he wants to be a "mediator president." Branded "the German" by his opponents, he says his family's been here for 500 years. In the rough and tumble world of Romanian politics, Iohannis stands out for being mild-mannered and serious.
— Former tourism minister Elena Udrea is well-known for her close relationship with the outgoing president and for her glitzy wardrobe — once sparking outrage by wearing a Dolce & Gabbana dress that cost as much as many Romanians earn in a month. She says Romanian industry and agriculture can kick-start the country's lagging economy and she wants an independent justice system.