Bulgaria’s Radev Wins Presidential Election, Exit Poll Shows

Updated on
  • Radev wins 58%, beating ruling party rival: Alpha Research
  • Victory may trigger resignation of Prime Minister Borissov

Bulgarian opposition Socialist candidate Rumen Radev won Bulgaria’s presidential election, an exit poll showed, defeating an ally of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who has pledged to step down and trigger early elections if she lost.

Radev, a 53-year-old fighter pilot and former head of Bulgaria’s Air Force, won 58 percent, according to an Alpha Research exit poll published after voting ended in Sunday’s runoff. Ruling Gerb party candidate Tsetska Tsacheva, the 58-year-old former speaker of parliament, won 35 percent, the poll published on national television showed. The first partial official results are due in the early hours of Monday.

If Borissov carries out his vow to resign, a pledge the prime minister admitted was ill-advised after Tsacheva came in second in the first round on Nov. 6, it may trigger the country’s third snap election in five years. Radev, who opinion polls showed leading by 10 percentage points in popular support last week, prevailed against accusations from his rival that he was “Russia’s candidate” for the mostly ceremonial post.

“There definitely will be a resignation,” Daniel Smilov, a political analyst at the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, said by phone on Sunday. “All signals lead to this conclusion and apparently Gerb will opt for early elections.”

Radev, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force War College, describes himself “as a U.S.-trained pilot flying Soviet planes, and a Bulgarian general.” He has rejected criticism that he would swing Bulgaria’s foreign policy toward Russia. The Black Sea state’s stance was a leading campaign issue as the country tries to balance its foreign policy between its Cold War patron, with which it shares religious, historical and other cultural ties, and its western allies in NATO and the European Union.


After joining the military alliance in 2004 and the EU three years later, the country of 7.2 million has a “clear Euro-Atlantic orientation” that can’t be reconsidered, Radev said. Still both he and Tsacheva campaigned for lifting U.S. and European Union sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea and backing of separatist rebels fighting the Ukrainian government in that country’s east.

Consecutive governments in Bulgaria, the EU’s poorest country in output per capita, have struggled to improve living standards and tackle corruption that has made it the bloc’s worst-ranked state on the graft watchdog’s Transparency International’s corruption-perceptions index.

That was borne out in the ballot, which revealed strong discontent among the electorate. About half of voters picked nationalists and populists among a field of more than 20 candidates in the first round, and 6.6 percent chose an option on Sunday saying they don’t support either of the runoff candidates.

(Updates with analyst comment in fourth paragraph.)
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