BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania's prime minister conceded defeat Sunday night in an extremely close presidential runoff against an ethnic German Transylvanian mayor.
Victor Ponta had been the favorite to win, but was narrowly edged out by Klaus Iohannis, the mayor of the city of Sibiu who promised a crackdown on corruption. Ponta said he had personally congratulated Iohannis.
"We are a democratic country," Ponta said outside the headquarters of his Social Democratic Party two hours after polls closed. "The people are always right."
Exit polls put the results at neck and neck with the first official results expected early Monday. The winner will replace President Traian Basescu, who is stepping down after 10 years.
Ponta called on some 15,000 protesters gathered outside his offices to listen to his message in an apparent attempt to defuse tensions over difficulties encountered by expatriate Romanians voting abroad.
"Thanks to you, another kind of Romania is beginning," Iohannis said later on his Facebook page. "The Romania we want is not one of conflict or revenge."
"Your vote and your word are its foundation. Let's put the first brick on this building and let it be a lasting one!"
About 300,000 Romanians who live overseas voted Sunday, many against the government. There were protests that they had been unable to vote in the Nov. 2 election that led to the runoff.
Some Romanians waved toothbrushes to protest long waits at polling stations abroad and thousands protested in Munich, according to Mediafax news.
Romanians living overseas must vote at polling stations in the countries where they are, and thousands of expats protested after they had to stand in line for hours in cities such as Paris, London, and Munich during the first round. Some were unable to vote.
The government said it had improved the voting procedure this time at facilities, including Romanian embassies.
Ponta led by 10 percentage points in the Nov. 2 vote, and corruption probes of senior Ponta aides appeared not to have dented the 42-year-old former prosecutor's chances.
Iohannis, 55, has promised an independent justice system.
In Romania, the president is in charge of foreign policy and defense, and names key prosecutors and the chiefs of intelligence services.