Romania holds municipal elections this weekend in what is seen as a test for the minority Liberal government ahead of a general election in December.
All eyes are on the Romanian capital where the incumbent Gabriela Firea, 48, of the Social Democratic Party faces a challenge from Nicusor Dan, a 50-year-old former civic activist and mathematician who is supported by a center-right coalition.
The election should have been held in June, but it was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Schools will be closed across the country around the elections for several days as many double up as polling stations.
The Liberals have scored well in opinion polls this year, partly for their handling of the health crisis, but also because the Social Democrats are deeply unpopular in some quarters.
However, the Social Democrats are the biggest party in parliament and are well organized in rural areas and in some cities, including Bucharest and may do better than predicted.
The focus is on Bucharest, a higgledy-piggledy, congested, yet charming city of 2 million. But parties will be looking to see where votes go all over Romania as a dress rehearsal for elections at the end of the year.
The race in Bucharest has been complicated by the entry of former President Traian Basescu, who was mayor from 2000 to 2004 before winning the presidential race and serving 10 years as president.
Mr. Basescu claims to be opposed to the Social Democrats, but he could tip the scales and take votes from the center-right electorate who would otherwise vote for Mr. Dan. The main contender enjoys a slight advantage over the current mayor, polls say.
Ms Firea, a former TV journalist, has fought back accusations of corruption and mismanagement and has defended her record tackling poor air quality from pollution and congestion.
Eyes are also on what happens out of the capital where the Social Democrats control municipalities with their so-called barons.
George Scripcaru, an independent who has been mayor of the city of Brasov for the last 16 years, and has switched parties several times, is running again despite being the focus of several anti-corruption investigations.
Former Social Democatic Labor Minister Lia Olguța Vasilescu is running for mayor of the southern city of Craiova, a post she held from 2012 to 2017. Ms Vasilescu was a close ally of former Social Democrat chairman Liviu Dragnea who is currently serving a 3 1/2 sentence in prison for abuse of office.
Former Prime Minister Emil Boc is standing for re-election in Romania’s second city, Cluj, supported by the Liberal Party. If he wins, it will be his third term.
Party switcher Mihai Chirica will stand again for the city of Iasi, this time for the Liberals. In the 2016 ballot he ran for the Social Democrats before falling out with the party leadership over a drive to dilute anti-corruption laws.