Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev is headed for a comfortable re-election, according to exit polls for the second round of the country’s presidential election on Sunday.
Radev, 58, led his challenger Anastas Gerdzhikov, also 58, by 64 to 66 percent in the presidential run-off after nearly winning outright in the first round on November 14, exit polls by Alpha Research and Gallup International showed amid a record low voter turnout.
The election follows widespread discontent against high-level corruption that ended the decade-long rule of former premier Boyko Borissov in April and led a new anti-corruption party to victory in last week’s parliamentary elections.
The presidential post is largely ceremonial but provides a powerful platform to influence public opinion.
The president comes to prominence in times of political crisis, when the head of state can appoint interim cabinets.
Radev gained popularity for his open support of massive anti-graft protests against Borissov in 2020 and for appointing interim governments that brought to light murky public procurement deals of Borissov’s last centre-right cabinet.
Borissov has denied any wrongdoing.
Gerdzhikov, the Sofia University rector backed by Borissov’s GERB party, had accused Radev of pitting Bulgarians against one another. He pledged to unite the nation, which has been hit by some of the worst coronavirus death rates in the European Union and soaring energy costs.
Two Harvard-educated entrepreneurs Radev appointed in May as interim ministers have since set up the We Continue The Change party (PP), which won Bulgaria’s third national election this year on November 14, pledging “zero corruption”.
Radev, a former NATO fighter pilot who studied for a time at the US Air War College in Alabama, has pledged to maintain Bulgaria’s place in the Western alliance if re-elected.
But he also has insisted on pragmatic ties with Russia and said that sanctions on Moscow need to be lifted.