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article imageBulgaria opposition stuns PM in presidential poll

By AFP     Nov 7, 2016 in Politics

A left-leaning air force general seen as sympathetic to Moscow won Bulgaria's presidential election first round, official results showed Monday, dealing a blow to Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.

Rumen Radev, candidate of the opposition Socialists, won 25.7 percent of the votes in Sunday's election, ahead of Borisov's candidate Tsetska Tsacheva on 22.0 percent, according to results based on over 95 percent of votes counted.

Tsacheva's poor performance is an embarrassing setback for the centre-right Borisov, 57, the burly former police chief who has been premier since late 2014.

Before Sunday's vote, Borisov had pledged to resign and call early elections if parliament speaker Tsacheva failed to beat Radev in the first round.

But Borisov rolled back on this late Sunday, saying that he would throw in the towel if Tsacheva, 58, doesn't win a run-off next Sunday. Polls suggest it will be a very close contest.

New elections would mean fresh turmoil in the EU's poorest nation -- the average monthly salary is 480 euros ($535) -- and further delay efforts to lift living standards and tackle rampant corruption.

Analysts say that Borisov's GERB party would likely again emerge as the largest in parliament but a highly fragmented legislature would make forming a government difficult.

The job of Bulgarian president is largely ceremonial but he or she -- Tsacheva would be the first woman in the post -- is still a respected figure with some powers.

If Radev, 53, becomes president this might mean that ex-communist Bulgaria, which has long walked a tightrope between Moscow and Brussels, could tilt more towards Russia.

He has called for EU sanctions imposed on Russia over Ukraine to be lifted. "We have lost a lot by declaring Russia more or less an enemy," the MiG ace said in a recent radio interview.

But saying he was a "NATO general trained in the United States", Radev told reporters on Monday that he has "never put in doubt the country's Euro-Atlantic direction".

Tsacheva on Monday called on young and middle-class voters not to support Radev, dubbing him "the red general", and telling reporters that "Bulgaria's future is at stake".

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