BUCHAREST – Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta on Sunday conceded defeat in a presidential runoff he had been widely expected to win, with his conservative opponent Klaus Iohannis claiming a shock victory.
"I congratulated Mr Iohannis on his victory. The people are always right," Ponta said after early exit polls put the two rivals neck-and-neck.
"We've won!" wrote Iohannis, the ethnic German centre-right mayor of the medieval Transylvanian city of Sibiu, on his Facebook page.
The upset came after a record number of voters went to the polls, with officials putting the turnout at more than 62 per cent.
With the official result not expected until Monday morning, three early exit polls put Iohannis narrowly in the lead, while two others favoured Ponta.
But pollsters said the difference between the two men had widened as more results came in.
The exit polls do not take into account the votes cast in the second-round runoff by Romanians abroad, seen as more likely to vote for Iohannis.
Ponta, 42, had hoped to become Romania's youngest ever president and cement his Social Democrat party's hold on power in the state.
"I voted so that our parents can live in a better country and our children have a future here in Romania," Ponta said earlier on Sunday as he cast his vote, with his wife and two children in tow.
In the first round on November 2, Ponta took 40 per cent of the vote against 30 per cent for Iohannis.
But 46 per cent of the ballots cast abroad were for Iohannis compared to just 16 per cent for Ponta.
Experts had earlier said that a high turnout in the second round could well tilt the balance in Iohannis's favour.
"The vote has been phenomenal. The turnout was huge," Iohannis told supporters at his campaign headquarters after the seventh presidential election. — AFP