Bulgarians Vote for President With Government Fate at Stake

  • Premier says he’ll resign if his party’s candidate loses
  • Ruling party victory may lead to cabinet changes, analyst says

Bulgarians are voting in a presidential election that may decide the fate of the government after Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said he’ll resign if his party’s candidate loses.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. and will close at 8 p.m. with about 6.9 million voters eligible to pick a successor to Rosen Plevneliev, who has chosen to stand down after his single five-year term ends in January. The front-runners in a field of more than 20 candidates are Parliament Speaker Tsetska Tsacheva, 58, who is a member of Borissov’s Gerb party, and the opposition Socialists’ nominee, General Rumen Radev, the 53-year-old former head of the Air Force. Turnout reached 26.2 percent by 1 p.m., Kamelia Neykova, spokeswoman for the Central Electoral Commission, told Bulgarian National Radio.

A woman walks by election campaign posters in Bobov Dol.

Photographer: Nikolay Doychinov/AFP via Getty Images

“If Gerb loses the vote, early parliamentary elections are inevitable,” Daniel Smilov, a political analyst at the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, said by phone Nov. 3. “It will be difficult to contain a majority in the current parliament supporting the government of a political force that has lost the presidential election. Winning the vote, on the other hand, will let Borissov reshuffle the cabinet, increasing Gerb’s influence.”

The Black Sea nation, the poorest in the European Union by per-capita output, is working to bring living standards closer to the bloc’s average and solidify the membership it won in 2007. A NATO member since 2004, Bulgaria is also seeking to balance its policy toward Russia, the source of most of its energy supplies, with the alliance’s concerns over an increasing risk of confrontation with President Vladimir Putin.

EU, Russia

Both Radev and Tsacheva advocate easing EU and U.S. sanctions imposed against Russia over its seizure of Crimea and support of rebels in eastern Ukraine. They have campaigned to revise the penalties to appeal to those Bulgarians who value their country’s religious and historical links with Russia, Bulgaria’s Cold War-era master. While the president’s powers are largely ceremonial, the incumbents have played a role in shaping public opinion.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent in the first-round ballot, the two with the most votes will proceed to a Nov. 13 runoff.

Borissov, who took office for a second term after winning 2014 snap elections, has said he’ll step down if Tsacheva suffers defeat. Winning the election may cement his power ahead of Bulgaria’s EU presidency planned for January-June 2018, according to Smilov.

Along with the presidential ballot, Bulgarians are also voting in a referendum on whether to elect lawmakers in a first-past-the-post system and whether to reduce state funding for political parties.

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