Socialists’ Radev leads Bulgaria presidential race

Rumen Radev [R] and Iliana Iotova, his candidate for Vice President. [Flagman]

Bulgaria’s Socialist-backed candidate, Rumen Radev, led the first round of Bulgaria’s presidential election, partial official results showed early today (7 November), ahead of his main rival from the ruling centre-right GERB party.

Radev, a 53-year old former air force commander, led with 26.45% of the vote, compared with 21.38% for Parliament Speaker Tsetska Tsacheva, with 10.48% of polling stations counted. The result, which reflected earlier exit polls, means the two would compete in the 13 November run-off.

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Bulgaria’s opposition Socialists nominated the former air force chief as their candidate in the presidential election (17 August), at a time of rising tensions between the country’s Western allies, and neighbours Turkey and Russia.

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Prime Minister Boyko Borissov nominated yesterday (2 October) Parliament Speaker Tsetska Tsacheva, an uncharismatic but faithful ally, as candidate in the 6 November presidential elections.

Among the 21 candidates the third best result (15.91%) was obtained by Krassimir Karakchanov, leader of the nationalist coalition consisting of his party VMRO and Ataka party of Volen Siderov. Fourth, surprisingly, came Vesselin Mareshki, a maverick businessman, with 10.13% of the votes, and fifth Traicho Traikov, the candidate of a small centre-right force, with 6.14%.

Heavy blow for Borissov

The result appears to be a heavy blow for the leader of GERB, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who had previously said he will resign if Tstacheva doesn’t win at the first round. This time he said that his resignation depends on the run-off results.

“We have one week and with this small difference [between Tsatcheva and Radev] we have realistic chances of winning. We learned lessons from places from where we had different expectations. Next Monday, if we lose the run-off, I will resign, Borissov said.

The prime minister warned that in case of early elections, the alternative to his government would be a coalition between the socialists and the party of the Turkish minority, the Movement of Rights and freedoms (DPS). Such a coalition, he said, would isolate the country internationally and cause the freezing of the EU funding for Bulgaria.

Commentators say Borissov made a poor choice with Tsatcheva as candidate. Currently the first female speaker of parliament of Bulgaria, Tstacheva is considered an uncharismatic candidate, unable to attract much support outside the ranks of GERB.

Radev told the press the Bulgarians wanted change and that he would not engage in bargaining with other political forces ahead of the second round.

Opinion polls give advantage to Radev for the second round, where he is expected to benefit from those who voted for Ivailo Kalfin, candidate of a small centre-left force who obtained 3.4%, as well as from the supporters of the candidate of DPS Plamen Oresharski, a former prime minister, who obtained 7.1%, as well as many of those who supported Karakachanov.

Bulgarian presidential elections explained… by one of the candidates

Former MEP Ivailo Kalfin, a familiar face in Brussels where he comes regularly as member of the Monti group of the future EU budget, told EURACTIV about the upcoming presidential elections in Bulgaria on 6 November, where he is one of the 21 candidates.

Radev categorically denied allegations that he would change the geopolitical orientation of Bulgaria. Asked about his position on NATO, he said that as an air force pilot until only months ago, he had “risked his life every day for NATO”.

If Radev gets elected next week, his vice president would be Iliana Iotova, currently an MEP from the S&D group.

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