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Bulgaria Faces Uncertainty After Election Of Pro-Russia President

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev (right) speaks with President-elect Rumen Radev during their meeting at the Bulgarian Presidency office in Sofia on November 14.

Bulgaria faces political uncertainty following the resignation of the country's prime minister after results showed his party losing badly in the country's presidential runoff.

Boiko Borisov's move early on November 14 came after official results showed pro-Moscow Socialist candidate Rumen Radev, a former air force commander with no political experience, winning the November 13 poll.

"We accept the will of the people and we congratulate those who have the support of the majority of the voters," said Borisov late on November 13 hours after polls closed.

Nearly complete election results announced early on November 14 showed Radev winning 59.4 percent of the vote, compared to 36.2 percent for the candidate of the ruling center-right GERB party, Tsetska Tsacheva.

GERB has dominated Bulgarian politics over the past decade. Borisov himself was reelected in 2014.

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

Radev won the first round of voting, held on November 6, with 25.44 percent, but failed to secure an overall majority.

Prime Minister Boiko Borisov announces his resignation.
Prime Minister Boiko Borisov announces his resignation.

Analysts said Radev was able to tap into anger among average Bulgarians over corruption among the country's political class.

He also called for tough measures to prevent an influx of migrants amid a wave of Euroskepticism across Central and Eastern Europe.

During his election campaign, the 53-year-old Radev called for better ties with Russia, potentially putting the Black Sea state at odds with its European Union and NATO allies.

Radev, who once studied at the U.S. Air War College in Alabama, has pledged to maintain Bulgaria's place in NATO but also has said "being pro-European doesn't mean being anti-Russian."

Nonetheless, Radev's calls to lift EU sanctions on Russia for the Kremlin's actions in Ukraine, including its support of separatists there and its illegal annexation of Crimea, have many analysts wondering whether Bulgaria will now move closer to Moscow.

'No Shortage Of Drama'

In his victory speech, Radev reiterated his support for scrapping the sanctions and also praised U.S. President-elect Donald Trump for "seeking more dialogue" with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"It gives strong hope for a peaceful solution of the conflicts in Syria and in Ukraine, and reducing confrontation," Radev added.

"General Radev's victory represents the unfolding of a pro-Russian scenario in Bulgaria so that the country supports Russian interests in the EU and NATO," political analyst Antoniy Galabov told the AFP news agency.

Outgoing President Rosen Plevneliev, a vocal Kremlin critic, warned on November 13 that Russia was trying to "destabilize Europe" by financing anti-EU ultranationalists in eastern states like Bulgaria.

In nearby Moldova, a pro-Russia candidate declared victory in that country's presidential election, also on November 13. Igor Dodon has pledged to restore trade and political relations with Moscow, which became strained after Moldova signed a trade association agreement with the European Union.

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Despite promised reforms, graft and poverty still plague Bulgaria, the EU's poorest member state. At the same time, public anger has also grown over thousands of migrants currently stranded in in the country.

"Bulgaria needs a new face, someone who defends national interests instead of always saying 'Yes' to the European Union and the United States," businessman and Sofia resident Assen Dragov, 39, told AFP.

The Bulgarian president's role is largely ceremonial but the incumbent is nonetheless a respected figure and commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Radev is due to take office on January 22 for a five-year term. His first job will likely be to call early elections this spring.

Political analyst Dimitar Bechev told AP 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."

With reporting by AFP and AP
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