Former air force commander Rumen Radev narrowly won the first round of presidential elections in Bulgaria on Sunday, exit polls showed, raising prospects of political instability in the small Black Sea state and a strategic shift towards Russia.
Radev, a 53-year old ally of the opposition Socialist party, has called for an end of European Union sanctions against Russia and has said EU member Bulgaria should hedge its bets when it comes to international alliances. Exit polls by Alpha Research and Gallup International showed Radev winning 24.8-26.7 percent of the vote in which 20 other candidates also competed. First partial results will be released early on Monday.
A failure to secure an overall majority would mean that Radev will face a runoff vote next Sunday against runner-up Tsetska Tsacheva, 58, the centre-right GERB ruling party candidate. Opinion polls conducted ahead of the election showed Radev was likely to lose the first round but win the runoff. Sunday’s exit polls showed Tsacheva winning 23.5-22.5 percent of the vote.
GERB Prime Minister Boiko Borisov has said he would resign if Tsacheva loses the first round. Even he doesn’t, observers say, opposition groupings could try to unseat his minority government after the presidential election. “I am firmly convinced that the prime minister has no reason to resign,” said Liliana Pavlova, Construction Minister in Borisov’s minority government after the exit polls were published.
Under the Bulgarian constitution, the president’s job is largely ceremonial but he or she can influence public opinion, veto legislation and lobby for policies.