Socialist-backed candidate Rumen Radev, who has called for an end to European Union sanctions against Russia, has won the first round of Bulgaria’s presidential election, partial official results showed on Monday. Radev’s close-fought victory over ruling party candidate Tsetska Tsacheva makes the former air force commander favorite to win a run-off on Sunday, a result that could push the Black Sea NATO member state politically closer to Russia. Results from 95 percent of polling stations showed Radev, 53, winning 25.7 percent of the vote. Center-right candidate Tsacheva, who had been expected to win narrowly, won 22 percent. A Radev victory in the run-off could usher in months of political instability, including a possible snap parliamentary ballot, after Prime Minister Boiko Borisov signaled he may quit if his candidate Tsacheva loses. Bulgaria’s president is a largely ceremonial figure, but can also influence policy, veto legislation and sign international treaties.
Radev, a jet fighter pilot and novice to politics, has tapped into public anger with political elites and fears about immigration, vowing not to let the Balkan country become a “migrant ghetto”. Some migrants have entered Bulgaria from neighboring Turkey en route for wealthier western Europe.
“The hope for a change is already tangible. People want to see more security and well-functioning institutions,” Radev said on Monday.
Radev has made clear he believes Bulgaria, which joined NATO in 2004 and the EU in 2007, should focus more on reviving economic and political ties with its old ally Russia, which has been under Western sanctions since its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. “In their frustration, my rivals are turning into fear-mongers,” Radev said. “For them, the Euro-Atlantic mantra also means (being an) enemy of Russia. For me, this is an unhealthy position.”