Presidential poll in Bulgaria to test appetite for anti-corruption reform

Bulgarians will vote on Sunday to choose the country’s next president in the second round of elections, weary of rampant corruption in the EU’s poorest member state.

Outgoing President Rumen Radev, 58, a proponent of change to clean up Bulgaria’s image as the EU’s most corrupt member state, looks set for another five-year term after winning 49.5 % of votes in the first round on November 14.

He competes with Sofia University rector Anastas Gerdzhikov, 58, who won 22.8% of the vote last week and is backed by the country’s prominent politician of the past decade, the former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov who was ousted from power in April.

The presidential post is largely ceremonial, but gains importance in times of political crisis, when the head of state can appoint interim cabinets. The presidency also provides a high platform for influencing public opinion.

Mr Radev, a former Air Force commander, has grown in popularity for his open support for massive anti-corruption protests against Mr Borisov in 2020 and for appointing interim cabinets that have brought deals to light of murky public procurement from his last center-right cabinet. Mr Borissov has denied any wrongdoing.

A new anti-corruption party, We Continue The Change (PP), created by two Harvard-trained entrepreneurs whom Radev appointed interim ministers in May, won the parliamentary elections last week.

Mr Radev is supported by Mr Borisov’s political opponents – the PP, the Socialists and the anti-elite ITN party which, along with another anti-corruption faction, are in talks to form a government.

“Radev is a frontrunner, but a lot will depend on whether his supporters actually vote,” said political analyst Daniel Smilov of the Sofia-based Center for Liberal Strategies.

Moscow links

Ms Gerdzhikov, a respected professor of ancient and medieval literature, accused Mr Radev of pitting Bulgarians against each other and pledged to unite the nation, struck by Covid-related death rates which are among the higher EU prices and soaring energy costs.

She is a strong supporter of Western alliances with NATO member Bulgaria and has campaigned to improve business opportunities and support judicial reforms to improve the rule of law in the country of seven million people.

Mr Radev, who campaigned in 2016 for the lifting of Western sanctions against Russia, said Bulgaria should maintain pragmatic ties with Moscow and should not view it as an enemy, especially because of historical and cultural ties. narrow.

His comments that the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia to Ukraine in 2014, was “currently Russian” sparked protests from Kiev.

Updated: November 21, 2021, 6:34 a.m.


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