Test for PM as Bul­gar­i­ans elect pres­i­dent

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

SOFIA: Bul­gar­i­ans voted yes­ter­day in a first round of pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, a key test of Prime Min­is­ter Boyko Borisov’s pop­u­lar­ity in the EU’s poor­est coun­try. If his can­di­date and pro­tegee Tset­ska Tsacheva fails to win the pres­i­dency, Borisov might call early elec­tions, plung­ing Bulgaria into re­newed po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty, ex­perts say.

Opin­ion polls sug­gest that Tsacheva, cur­rently speaker of par­lia­ment, will top the crowded field of 21 can­di­dates with around 30 per­cent of the vote. But close on the 58-year-old’s tail will be MiG ace and for­mer air­force head Ru­men Radev, the can­di­date of the op­po­si­tion So­cial­ists who is seen as more sym­pa­thetic to Rus­sia. This will set up what sur­veys sug­gest will be a tight runoff con­test be­tween Tsacheva and Radev on Novem­ber 13 to be­come the south-east­ern Euro­pean coun­try’s head of state.

While Borisov presents Tsacheva as the “mother of the na­tion”, po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Dim­i­tar Bechev warned that he had failed to grasp her “dan­ger­ous lack of charisma”. “Radev could end up car­ry­ing the day by a small mar­gin,” Bechev said. Burly for­mer body­guard and po­lice chief Borisov, 57, has in­jected some much-needed sta­bil­ity into Bulgaria since be­com­ing premier for the sec­ond time in late 2014. His first term ended abruptly in Fe­bru­ary 2013 when Bul­gar­i­ans livid about poverty, cor­rup­tion and crony­ism took to the streets across the coun­try. Eight peo­ple set them­selves on fire.

More protests brought down the sub­se­quent tech­no­crat gov­ern­ment af­ter barely a year, pre­cip­i­tat­ing fresh elec­tions that re­turned Borisov to power at the head of a mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment. Graft and poverty re­main rife, how­ever, and progress on re­forms has been slug­gish. A new voter con­cern in re­cent months has seen thou­sands of mi­grants stranded in Bulgaria.

East or West?

The job of Bul­gar­ian pres­i­dent is largely cer­e­mo­nial but he or she is still a re­spected fig­ure who chooses some top of­fi­cials and can ap­point tech­no­crat gov­ern­ments in a cri­sis. And for a coun­try for­ever walk­ing the East-West tightrope, both Moscow and Brussels will be watch­ing closely to see whether the new pres­i­dent might tilt the ex-com­mu­nist coun­try more into the Rus­sian or the Western or­bit.

NATO mem­ber Bulgaria last Septem­ber an­gered Moscow by ban­ning Rus­sian sup­ply flights to Syria from us­ing its airspace. Rosen Pleneviev, the out­go­ing pres­i­dent, has been out­spo­ken in his crit­i­cism of Rus­sia and its Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. “What to­day Rus­sia is try­ing to achieve is to weaken Europe, to di­vide Europe and to make us de­pen­dent,” Pleneviev told the BBC in an in­ter­view pub­lished Fri­day. But at the same time Bulgaria’s econ­omy is hugely re­liant on Rus­sia, par­tic­u­larly in gas, and the two have deep his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural ties. In 2010 Borisov gave Putin a puppy.

Radev, mean­while, told Darik ra­dio in a re­cent in­ter­view: “We have lost a lot by declar­ing Rus­sia more or less an en­emy.” In ad­di­tion he has called for EU sanc­tions on Rus­sia, im­posed be­cause of Ukraine, to be lifted-a po­si­tion shared by Tsacheva un­til Borisov called her back into line. Vot­ing sta­tions close at 8 pm (1800 GMT), with exit polls ex­pected soon af­ter­wards.

— AP

PLEVEN: Bul­gar­ian casts his vote dur­ing Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

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