Rumen Radev, Bulgaria’s former air force commander, was set to win a run-off vote in Sunday’s presidential election second round, triggering the resignation of Boyko Borisov, the centre-right prime minister, immediately after the polls closed.
First results gave Mr Radev, an independent backed by the opposition Socialist party, a projected 59 per cent of the ballot to 37 per cent for Tsetska Tsacheva, the Speaker of parliament and candidate of Mr Borisov’s ruling Gerb (Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria) party.
Mr Borisov announced at a news conference that he would resign this week, conceding that Gerb had lost both the presidential election and its grip on parliament.
“The results showed that the governing coalition now has no majority and could not even pass the budget,” the premier said. “Radev’s victory is clear cut.”
Analysts said Mr Radev benefited from a groundswell of popular resentment against the Gerb-led coalition, which has held power since 2009, apart from a brief period of Socialist rule in 2014.
This wasn’t only a protest vote, it was a vote for a change of model. The Bulgarians have shown they don’t want to be part of a one-man show any more
In addition to Socialist support, the former air force chief attracted votes from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, which represents both Bulgaria’s ethnic Turkish minority and an influential group of businessmen, and from supporters of IMRO, a rightwing ultra-nationalist party whose leader won 15 per cent of the vote in the election first round last Sunday.
“This wasn’t only a protest vote, it was a vote for a change of model. The Bulgarians have shown they don’t want to be part of a one-man show any more,” said Kancho Stoychev of Gallup International, a pollster.
Mr Borisov, a former bodyguard and black belt in karate who became mayor of Sofia, has recently lost popularity over his high-handed style of governing during Gerb’s two terms in office.
Mr Radev was accused during the campaign of being too close to Moscow as the Socialist-backed candidate, reflecting concerns over the party’s longstanding policy of keeping close ties with Russian political and business circles.
Like his electoral opponent, Mr Radev has called for the removal of western sanctions against Russia, imposed after the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and interventions in eastern Ukraine. But he has also stressed his support for Bulgaria’s membership of the EU and the Nato alliance.
Mr Radev reiterated his commitment to the western system on Sunday night, telling the Financial Times: “We Bulgarians belong to Europe and this is of tremendous importance. Our political future is the European Union and I’ll do my best that we as Europeans are stronger and more effective together.”
Mr Borisov urged Rosen Plevneliev, the outgoing president, to appoint a caretaker government to lead the country to a general election early next year, rather than give a mandate to the Socialists to try to form a government, which would be the normal procedure.
Kornelia Ninova, the Socialist leader, sitting next to Mr Radev at a news conference, said she would return the mandate, calling for a general election.
“We will not participate in a government within the term of this parliament, we’ll aim to be the first political force in an early election,” Ms Ninova said.