Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, a popular figure in the fight against corruption in the poorest country in the European Union, won a comfortable re-election on Sunday.
“Bulgaria is breaking the deadlock,” said the former fighter pilot after polls estimated his share of the vote at 66%.
Bulgarians voted “for change, for a break with corruption, looting and lawlessness, for a purge of the mafia of power,” said the 58-year-old.
The challenger Anastas Guerdjikov, credited with 32% of the vote, was quick to admit his defeat, while affirming that “the whole state apparatus was working for the outgoing president”.
Before Radev took office in 2016, the presidency was largely ceremonial, but he transformed it, putting it at the heart of the fight against corruption.
After voting earlier on Sunday, Radev said: “Let’s take our destiny into our own hands, don’t let others undermine our future.”
Sunday’s vote was a run-off after Radev missed a clear first-round victory last weekend, when he garnered 49% of the vote.
Gerdzhikov, also 58, won 23 percent.
Radev is the country’s most popular politician, but Bulgaria itself is torn apart by rowdy political parties. They have failed to put in place the stable government needed to tackle entrenched corruption and the worsening coronavirus pandemic.
“Everything is bad. I want this to change for my children, grandchildren and former students,” retired teacher Dobrinka Nakova told AFP in the capital Sofia as she went to the polls.
The new political science professor at Bulgarian University Antoniy Todorov called the vote a “clash between two visions” in the Eastern European country.
It is one between “soft tolerance of rampant corruption and staunch opposition to a model of governance that uses public power for private gain,” he wrote in a recent blog post.
– Lower participation –
Radev’s clear victory could usher in a period of political stability after a new anti-corruption party won a surprise victory last weekend in the country’s third general election this year.
We Continue the Change is seeking coalition partners to end a six-month political stalemate that resulted in the worst political crisis since the end of communism three decades ago.
Gerdzhikov, also 58, was supported by the GERB party of former conservative prime minister Boyko Borisov, which came second in the parliamentary elections.
While many praised Radev for dismissing Borisov, his critics accused him of going too far.
His landslide victory could accentuate the “concentration of power,” analyst Antony Galabov said in a television interview. “The president will have a disproportionate influence.”
Analysts had speculated that voter apathy might make victory more difficult for Radev, who was backed by the Socialists for his first five-year term but this time running as an independent.
Only 40% of those eligible showed up in the first round, and the electoral commission said only 24% voted on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. GMT, down sharply from 2016.
Radev has drawn on a wide range of supporters, including We Continue the Change, whose founders – Harvard graduates Kiril Petkov and Assen Vassilev – served as ministers in the first caretaker government Radev appointed in May after a little poll. concluding in April.
Radev had backed the protests against Borisov’s 10-year rule last summer, shouting “Mafia out!” with his fist raised in the air as he briefly joined the crowd.
– Pandemic failure –
But the end of Borisov’s reign also marked the beginning of the political stalemate.
And it coincided with a coronavirus attack, with Bulgaria having the lowest vaccination rate of any member of the EU and one of the highest Covid-19 death rates in the world.
The second interim government appointed by Radev after a failed new attempt by parties to form a government after the July elections has come under heavy criticism for its mismanagement of the epidemic.
The country has struggled to jab in the face of strong anti-vaccination sentiment and prolific fake news.
The two interim administrations, however, were hailed for an avalanche of revelations about corruption, fraud and mismanagement under Borisov, which, according to Gallup analyst Svetlin Tachev, “played in Radev’s favor.”
ds / gd / har