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Bulgarian presidential runoff a test of center-right govt

Associated Press Associated Press 11/11/2016 By VESELIN TOSHKOV, Associated Press
A man stops and looks at a poster of the Bulgaria's centre-right ruling GERB party presidential candidate Tsacheva in Sofia, Bulgaria, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, ahead of Presidential elections runoff on Sunday. Bulgarians will go to the polls Sunday to choose their new president in a contested run-off that has become a referendum on the fate of the center-right government of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova) © The Associated Press A man stops and looks at a poster of the Bulgaria's centre-right ruling GERB party presidential candidate Tsacheva in Sofia, Bulgaria, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, ahead of Presidential elections runoff on Sunday. Bulgarians will go to the polls Sunday to choose their new president in a contested run-off that has become a referendum on the fate of the center-right government of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova)

SOFIA, Bulgaria —  Bulgarians vote Sunday to choose their new president in a contested runoff that has become a referendum on the fate of the country's center-right government. Here is a look at the vote and the issues:

WHERE IN THE WORLD?

Bulgaria is a nation of 7.2 million in southeastern Europe, bordered by Romania, Turkey, Serbia, Greece and Macedonia. It's one of the poorest members of the 28-nation European Union and joined NATO in 2004. Still many in this Black Sea nation still share deep historical and cultural ties with Moscow and the energy-strapped country is heavily reliant on Russian energy supplies.

WHO IS RUNNING?

In a surprise in the first round of voting, Gen. Rumen Radev, 53, a former non-partisan chief of Bulgarian Air Force came in first with 25 percent of the vote. He was followed by the speaker of Parliament, Tsetska Tsacheva, a 58-year-old lawyer and member of Prime Minister Borisov's center-right party with 22 percent. For the first time, voting is compulsory for Bulgaria's 6.8 million voters.

WHAT ARE THE STAKES?

Borisov, whose party has trumped in all national elections in the last decade, says he will resign if Tsacheva loses the runoff, opening the way to an early parliamentary election. The coalition government's popularity has faded due to the slow pace of reforms to eliminate graft and overhaul the judicial system

WHAT DOES RADEV WANT? 

Radev, a former NATO fighter pilot who is a rookie in politics, has attracted many Bulgarians who are fed up with politicians they see as corrupt and distanced from the people. He has pledged to comply with Bulgaria's European obligations, if he is elected. But he also says "being pro-European does not mean being anti-Russian" and insists that sanctions on Moscow need to be lifted.

 

WHAT DOES TSACHEVA PROMISE TO DO? 

If she becomes Bulgaria's first female president, Tsacheva is expected to continue her party's pro-Europe foreign policy. But unlike her party leader, Tsacheva is not very charismatic. She has tried to rally other right-wing parties behind her, urging them not to allow "Bulgaria to return to the dark past" of being under Russia's thumb.

 

WHY IT MATTERS

The new Bulgarian president will face a possible rise in migrant inflows from neighboring Turkey and growing tensions between Russia and the West, but the post carried little real authority. A Radev victory, however, could trigger political instability and produce an early parliamentary election — the country's third in five years.

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