Bulgarians Vote for President With Premier’s Job at Stake

  • Opposition Socialist candidate leads in first round of voting
  • Premier Borissov reiterates threat to resign if Tsacheva loses

Bulgarians are voting in the final round of a presidential election that may topple Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s coalition government and trigger the third snap vote in the European Union’s poorest member in five years.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. and will close at 8 p.m. with about 6.8 million voters eligible to pick a successor to Rosen Plevneliev, who chose to stand down after his single five-year term ends in January. Borissov has vowed to resign if the ruling Gerb party’s nominee for the head of state, Parliamentary Speaker Tsetska Tsacheva, fails in the final round, even though the vote doesn’t affect the balance of power in the assembly. The opposition Socialist candidate Rumen Radev, a U.S.-trained former head of the NATO member’s Air Force, won the first round on Nov. 6 with 25 percent of the vote. Tsacheva took 22 percent.

Tsetska Tsacheva and Rumen Radev.

Photographer: Nikolay Doychinov/AFP via Getty Images

“Gerb won’t participate in the country’s government in any way if we lose today,” Borissov told reporters on Sunday. “It depends on the people whether there will be a political crisis.”

Borissov won a second term in 2014 in early elections triggered by a bank crisis. The Black Sea country of 7.2 million is seeking to expand its influence as an EU member and aspires to apply for the ERM-2 pre-euro exchange-rate mechanism. Still, the first-round vote revealed discontent, with about half the ballots going to nationalist and populist candidates. Voter turnout was 27.2 percent at 1 p.m., Central Electoral Commission spokesman Alexander Andreev told reporters.

Russia, Corruption

The election has fueled accusations between the front-runners concerning efforts to balance the policy toward Russia, the source of most of Bulgaria’s energy supplies, with concerns among its NATO partners over an increasing risk of confrontation with Moscow. Another main issue is graft, with Bulgaria ranked the worst among the entire EU, according to Transparency International’s global 2015 corruption-perceptions index.

Both Radev, 53, and Tsacheva, 58, campaigned for easing EU and U.S. sanctions against Russia for its seizure of Crimea and support of rebels in eastern Ukraine, appealing to Bulgarians who value their country’s religious and historical links with their Cold War ally. Tsacheva, a lawyer, has warned against “making a turn to the east, northeast or to Eurasia” and accused Radev of being “Russia’s candidate,” citing Russian media headlines supporting him.

Radev, who holds a degree from the Air Force War College in the U.S., has rejected the idea he would swing Bulgaria’s foreign policy eastward, saying that he was “the pro-European candidate.”

Interim Government

If the election triggers Borissov’s resignation, the government will step down and Borissov’s party Gerb or the opposition can propose a new cabinet that needs parliament’s approval, or Plevneliev will appoint an interim government. Then President-Elect Radev, who’ll take office in Jan. 2017, will have the authority to dissolve parliament and call a snap vote as early as March.

“It is too early for an interim government,” Plevneliev told reporters on Sunday. “It will depend on the political parties and on the executive to find a working formula within the current parliament.”

Bulgaria is the third-least indebted EU member after Estonia and Luxembourg, with public obligations amounting to 26 percent of economic output, according to Eurostat. The country also has foreign exchange reserves -- the anchor of a currency board system that pegs the lev to the euro -- in excess of half of GDP and a fiscal reserve of 14.3 billion lev ($8 billion).

Borissov has tried to boost economic growth, which reached 3 percent in the third quarter, while slashing spending to balance the budget after the fiscal deficit reached 3 percent of gross domestic product last year.

While the outcome of the possible snap vote would be uncertain, it would have minimal immediate impact on markets because of the country’s “very strong financial position,” UniCredit’s Chief Economist for central and eastern Europe Lubomir Mitov said in a Nov. 9 report.

“The outcome of eventual early parliamentary elections next year is highly uncertain, with odds that the current coalition will retain power diminishing and those of the emergence of a populist-nationalist coalition rising,” Mitov said.

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