Incumbent Bulgarian President Rumen Radev has won a second five-year term, defeating challenger Anastas Gerdzhikov in a runoff vote, according to preliminary results.
The 58-year-old Radev, running on an anti-corruption platform, took 66 percent of the vote in the November 21 runoff. Gerdzhikov, the rector of the University of Sofia, won 32 percent, according to partial official results.
Radev fell just short of a majority in last weekend’s first-round vote, getting 49 percent compared to 23 percent for Gerdzhikov.
Surveys suggested that voter turnout in the runoff was less than 40 percent, a record low but not something that would affect the validity of the result.
The initial November 14 contest was held alongside the country's third parliamentary elections in a year in a bid to break a months-long political deadlock following two inconclusive parliamentary polls in April and July.
In a surprise victory, the new anti-graft party We Continue The Change came in first, followed in close second by former premier Boyko Borisov's GERB party.
We Continue The Change is now in coalition talks with two other anti-graft factions and the Socialist Party, which support Radev.
In his first comments after the vote, Radev urged the parties to forge a ruling government, kick-start judicial reforms, take steps against rising energy costs, and to fight the worsening coronavirus outbreak in the country.
"An unprecedented political month with two types of elections has ended, clearly highlighting the desire of the people for change, to break with corruption, robbery and unlawfulness, and remove the mafia from power," Radev told reporters.
Bulgaria’s presidency is largely ceremonial, but Radev has transformed the role and been active in the struggle against corruption in the EU's poorest country.
Radev is a bitter rival of Borisov and supported months of protests against the ex-prime minister's 10-year rule that began in the summer of 2020.
Borisov ultimately stepped down as prime minister in April due to the mounting anti-corruption protests against him and his GERB party, which accuse Radev of dividing the nation.
But the end of Borisov’s rule and months of political deadlock has coincided with rising energy prices and the COVID-19 pandemic in Bulgaria, which has the EU's lowest vaccination rate.
The second caretaker administration Radev appointed after parties failed yet another attempt to form a government after polls in July was strongly criticized for its poor handling of the outbreak.
Both interim administrations did win public support for revelations about corruption, fraud, and mismanagement under Borisov, giving Radev a boost.
A member of both NATO and the European Union, Bulgaria has been plagued by rampant corruption since overthrowing communism more than three decades ago. It routinely comes in at the bottom of the EU for perceptions of corruption and media freedom.