Former air force commander Rumen Radev has expanded his lead over rival Tsetska Tsacheva ahead of Sunday's presidential runoff, polls show. A victory for Radev could see Bulgaria lean more towards Russia.
The presidential contest between Tsetska Tsacheva (left) and Rumen Radev is expected to be closely fought
An opinion survey by Gallup International showed support for Socialist party ally Rumen Radev was at 51 percent, with the governing GERB party's candidate Tsetska Tsacheva trailing on 40 percent.
Alpha Research, a second independent pollster cited by Reuters news agency, turned up similar findings. It said 49.6 percent of voters backed Radev, while 39.1 percent supported Tsacheva. Both polls suggest that around a quarter of the ex-communist state's electorate are still undecided.
Radev, 53, who is seen as sympathetic to Moscow, won the first found of voting at the weekend, but failed to secure an overall majority. He took around 25.44 percent of the vote, ahead of Tsacheva on 21.96 percent. The pair will now face off in the second round on Sunday.
While most power in the country rests with the prime minister and parliament, the president leads the armed forces and can veto legislation, sign international treaties and appoint top security and judicial officials.
Closer ties with Russia?
A win for Radev could plunge the small Black Sea state into political uncertainty. Prime Minister Boiko Borisov has said he would step down if his nominee Tsacheva loses, triggering early elections.
If elected president, Radev would likely to foster cozier ties with Moscow, potentially putting the country at odds with its European Union and NATO allies. During the campaign, he called for the lifting of sanctions imposed on Russia over its role in the eastern Ukraine conflict. He also pledged to support tougher border security to prevent an influx of migrants.
Analysts say his lead in the polls reflects voter disillusionment with Borisov's government and its sluggish progress in tackling corruption and poverty.
"Mrs. Tsacheva represents the status quo" while the outspoken Radev is seen as an agent of change, analyst Zhivko Georgiev of the Gallup Institute told AFP. "Borisov's threat to step down has more mobilized his opponents than supporters," he added.
nm/kms (AFP, Reuters)