Romania's leftist Prime Minister Victor Ponta is leading in the first round of the country's presidential election, four exit polls showed.

Ponta was expected to win between 38.2 and 41.5 percent of Sunday's vote, beating his nearest challenger, Klaus Iohannis, who is backed by two right-wing parties. Iohannis was estimated to have garnered between 31.2 and 32.1 percent of the vote.

With no candidate expected to win a majority, the prime minister was likely to face Iohannis in a runoff on November 16. The first official results are expected early on Monday.

"After 10 years of war and destruction, it is time for reconstruction,'' Ponta said after casting his ballot in Bucharest, referring to his bitter rivalry with President Traian Basescu, who steps down in December after ten years in office.

"I am confident that 25 years after [the fall of the communist regime] we can complete Romania's transition so that it becomes a truly democratic and European country," Ponta added.

Basescu also acknowledged Romania need a new leader as he said " We need a president who will consolidate the rule of the law."

Romania's election campaign has been marred by scandal, with numerous corruption probes including some aimed at allies of the prime minister, and a settling of scores between Ponta and Basescu.

Voting for change

Some voters said they wanted a president who would present a good image of this nation of 19 million.

"I want a president who is not corrupt, has a good standing and understands foreign policy," Alexandru Antoniu, a 36-year-old engineer, told the Associated Press - adding that he would vote for Monica Macovei, who had made anti-corruption the focus of her campaign. 

"I hope the next president will work to give young people a chance, and to boost small businesses which are the ones carrying the heaviest burden - taxes are too much," Elena Pascu, a 57-year-old accountant voting in the centre of
Bucharest, told the AFP news agency.

The new president will face a number of pressing issues, including recession and persistent accusations of corruption and bad governance.

The recession-hit economy is also desperately in need of a boost in a country where the average monthly salary is $480 and more than a fifth of under-25s are unemployed.

Source: Agencies