|Rosen Plevneliev held a comfortable lead in initial exit poll results from Sunday's presidential election [Reuters]
Early poll results in Bulgaria have shown Rosen Plevneliev, the presidential candidate of the ruling right-wing party, claiming victory.
The popular ex-construction minister won Sunday's second-round vote with at least 54 per cent of the vote, beating Ivaylo Kalfin, the Socialist candidate, who received an estimated 44 per cent, according to exit polls conducted by MBMD, Sova Harris, Gallup and Alpha Research.
"Bulgaria has elected its next president. His name is Rosen Plevneliev," Boryana Dimitrova, an Alpha Research analyst, told state BNT television.
Although official results were not expected until later Sunday, Dimitrova stressed that "the distance between the two [candidates] cannot be bridged".
The ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) also won a "convincing victory" in the parallel run-offs for local mayors, Dimitrova added, tightening their grip on the power centers in the country of 6.9 million.
GERB was quick to claim its election win. Tsvetan Tsvetanov, interior minister and election chief, said: "Of course we won, and very convincingly indeed".
Plevneliev, 47, who traded the building industry for politics just two years ago, rapidly became GERB's most popular minister.
He won praise for efforts to renovate the country's ageing infrastructure and launch highway construction projects with funds secured through European Union development grants.
Analysts have voiced concern, however, that the inexperienced politician may expedite proposals backed by Bulgaria's powerful Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. It was Borisov, the GERB founder, who pushed Plevneliev to run for the presidency and campaigned on his behalf.
The Bulgarian presidency, which carries a five-year term, is largely a ceremonial post with limited powers. Even so, Plevneliev will become the country's commander-in-chief and will have the ability to veto legislation.
This election was seen as a key test of GERB's popularity ahead of general elections set for 2013.
In taking the presidency from the Socialist party, GERB, which holds a near majority in parliament, cemented its place as Bulgaria's leading political force, Dimitrova said.