A former Bulgarian Air Force officer who has called on the European Union to lift its sanctions against Russia was the probable winner of the country’s presidential election Sunday, but he did not secure enough votes to avoid a runoff, exit polls showed. The exit polls gave opposition Socialist candidate Rumen Radev a narrow lead over the candidate of the ruling center-right party, Parliament Speaker Tsetska Tsacheva, who was seen as the race’s front-runner ahead of Sunday’s voting. The Balkan nation’s relations with Russia, the future of the European Union and immigration — in the wake of thousands fleeing Africa and the Middle East — dominated the election campaign.
Bulgaria, which joined the European Union a decade ago, remains the poorest member of the bloc. The slow pace of reforms to eliminate graft and poverty has fueled disillusionment, while more than 1 million young people in the nation of 7.2 million have emigrated in search of better futures abroad.
Radev, 53, and Tsacheva, 58, were two of 21 candidates seeking the largely ceremonial presidency in an election that for the first time made voting for the position compulsory for Bulgaria’s 6.8 million voters. If officials uphold the election results, the two will go head-to-head in a runoff election Nov. 13.
Most political analysts said Radev’s likely victory in the runoff poses a threat for Prime Minister Borisov and his ruling GERB party, possibly prompting early elections next spring that could shake up Bulgaria’s political scene.