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Europe

Bulgarian presidential race heads for runoff

The race for president in Bulgaria is set to continue next weekend after nobody managed to gain an outright majority. A left-leaning opposition figure who has friendly ties to Moscow is polling ahead in Sunday's vote.

After two-thirds of ballots were counted Monday morning, Socialist candidate Rumen Radev was on track with more than 25 percent of the vote with the ruling party's Tsetska Tsacheva trailing with 22 percent.

A defeat for Tsacheva would be an embarrassing setback for the center-right Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, a former police chief who has been premier since late 2014. Borisov had vowed to resign if his ally Tsacheva failed in the first round but appeared to walk back that promise late Sunday.

New elections could plunge the EU's poorest - and certainly one of its most corrupt - members into renewed political turmoil where wages average just 480 euros ($535) a month.

A victory for Radev could also see ex-communist Bulgaria, which has long walked a tightrope between Russia and the EU, tilt toward Moscow. The former air force officer has called for the EU to lift economic sanctions imposed on Russia. "We have lost a lot by declaring Russia more or less an enemy," Radev told local radio in a recent interview. He added that improved ties with its former Warsaw Pact ally wouldn't necessarily be at the expense of its ties to the West and NATO specifically.

The Bulgarian presidency is largely ceremonial but he or she is still a respected figure with some influence. The West-friendly presidential incumbent, Rossen Plevneliev declined to seek another five-year term. He had been an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In a referendum held alongside the presidential election Sunday,  Bulgarians supported the proposal to overhaul parliamentary elections rules and streamline the system of public subsidy to political parties. Official results are unlikely before Monday morning, with a legal deadline expiring Tuesday evening. The runoff vote has been scheduled for November 13.

jar/kms (dpa, AFP)