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Bulgaria premier resigns after party loses presidential vote

Associated Press Associated Press 14/11/2016 By VESELIN TOSHKOV, Associated Press
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov announces his resignation, during a press conference in Sofia, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016. Borisov announced his resignation after exit polls showed his party losing badly in Sunday's runoff presidential election. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova) © The Associated Press Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov announces his resignation, during a press conference in Sofia, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016. Borisov announced his resignation after exit polls showed his party losing badly in Sunday's runoff presidential election. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova)

SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgaria's prime minister handed in his resignation to parliament Monday after results showed his party losing badly in the presidential runoff, opening the way for an early parliamentary election.

Boiko Borisov's move comes after official results show Socialist-backed candidate Rumen Radev, a former non-partisan air force chief, winning the presidential election.

"We accept the will of the people and we congratulate those who have the support of the majority of the voters," said Borisov, whose party had previously triumphed in all national elections over the last decade.

Halfway into its four-year term, Borisov's coalition government has managed to restore political stability after months of anti-corruption protests. But its popularity has faded because of the slow pace of reforms to eliminate graft and poverty, and overhaul the judicial system.

Radev called the result "a negative vote for the government that leads to a new political situation."

Bulgaria's presidency is primarily a ceremonial position. Although the head of state has no executive powers, and all major policies must be approved by parliament, the popular election gives the post more influence and authority. The president leads the armed forces and can veto legislation and sign international treaties. The president also names ambassadors and the heads of the intelligence and security services.

Borisov's resignation would likely lead to months of difficult coalition talks among several political groupings and an early election as soon as April.

The Central Election Commission said that with 99.3 percent of the ballots counted, Radev won 59.4 percent of the vote in Sunday's runoff, compared with 36.2 percent for the candidate of the ruling center-right party, Tsetska Tsacheva.

Radev, who will take office for a five-year term on Jan. 22, will face a possible rise in migrants from neighboring Turkey and growing tensions between Russia and the West.

A political novice, Radev attracted many Bulgarians who are fed up with corrupt politicians. The former NATO fighter pilot, who once studied at the U.S. Air War College in Alabama, has pledged to maintain Bulgaria's place in NATO but also says "being pro-European doesn't mean being anti-Russian."

"During his election campaign, the U.S. president-elect said categorically that he is going to have a deeper dialogue with Russia," Radev said after the vote and added that "it gives strong hope for a peaceful solution of the conflicts in Syria and in Ukraine, and reducing confrontation."

In nearby Moldova, a pro-Russia candidate declared victory in the country's presidential election, also on Sunday. Igor Dodon has pledged to restore trade and political relations with Moscow, which cooled after Moldova signed a trade association agreement with the European Union.

Political analyst Dimitar Bechev said after the vote in Bulgaria that "there will be no shortage of drama in Bulgaria over the coming months, to be sure, but it will be driven by local forces, not the geopolitical contest between Russia and the West."

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