World

Romania's prime minister is favorite to be its next president; voters blase about corruption

  • A man gives directions to a young woman, in Bucharest, Romania, Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014, backdropped by a campaign poster, attached to the facade of an apartment block, depicting Prime Minister Victor Ponta, leader of the ruling Social Democracy Party (PSD) who runs for president in elections set to take place on Nov. 2.  Several prominent members of the PSD came under investigation for corruption related crimes in recent weeks, ahead of the presidential election in which the Social Democratic Party leader, Prime Minister Victor Ponta, is the favorite. Ponta says the probes will not harm his chances. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru, Mediafax) ROMANIA OUT

    A man gives directions to a young woman, in Bucharest, Romania, Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014, backdropped by a campaign poster, attached to the facade of an apartment block, depicting Prime Minister Victor Ponta, leader of the ruling Social Democracy Party (PSD) who runs for president in elections set to take place on Nov. 2. Several prominent members of the PSD came under investigation for corruption related crimes in recent weeks, ahead of the presidential election in which the Social Democratic Party leader, Prime Minister Victor Ponta, is the favorite. Ponta says the probes will not harm his chances. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru, Mediafax) ROMANIA OUT  (The Associated Press)

  • An elderly woman sells autumn flowers outside a subway station, in Bucharest, Romania, Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014. Romanians go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new leader as President Traian Basescu steps down after 10 years. (AP Photo/Octav Ganea, Mediafax) ROMANIA OUT

    An elderly woman sells autumn flowers outside a subway station, in Bucharest, Romania, Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014. Romanians go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new leader as President Traian Basescu steps down after 10 years. (AP Photo/Octav Ganea, Mediafax) ROMANIA OUT  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this October 23, 2014, file picture A crew of workers install a campaign poster depicting Elena Udrea leader of the Popular Movement Party, in Bucharest, Romania. Romanians go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new leader as President Traian Basescu steps down after 10 years. 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 (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru, Mediafax) ROMANIA OUT

    FILE - In this October 23, 2014, file picture A crew of workers install a campaign poster depicting Elena Udrea leader of the Popular Movement Party, in Bucharest, Romania. Romanians go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new leader as President Traian Basescu steps down after 10 years. 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 (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru, Mediafax) ROMANIA OUT  (The Associated Press)

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.

THE CHALLENGERS

— 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.