BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Leftist Social Democrats promising to soften the impact of the global economic crisis won the most votes in Romania's parliamentary elections Sunday but not enough to take power outright, projections showed.
The party, which includes former communist-era leaders, could still wind up in opposition, according to two exit polls giving it roughly 36 percent.
The exit polls, which have been reliable in past elections, projected President Traian Basescu's centrist Democratic Liberal Party in second place, with just under 31 percent. Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu's center-right Liberals ran a distant third with 20 percent.
"The Social Democrats won these elections," party leader Mircea Geoana said. "The message of the Romanian electorate tonight is that things don't work anymore."
But other party leaders stood by glumly as Geoana spoke. The Social Democrats had hoped for much stronger support, and it remained unclear whether they would join forces with another party and manage to rule.
Senior party officials have been charged with corruption, and the bloc's poor public image almost certainly was a factor in its lukewarm showing.
Critics of Tariceanu's minority government contend it exposed Romania to financial disaster through the same free-market policies that helped it gain entry to the European Union in 2007.
"I want Romania to go forward, not backward," Tariceanu said in a televised speech. "Romania needs strong leaders ... together we succeeded in doing extraordinary things."
Initial official results will be released Monday.