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Monday, 12 November, 2001, 02:10 GMT
Bulgaria faces election run-off
Campaign posters of President Petar Stoyanov in Sofia
Voters are disillusioned by low living standards
Exit polls following Sunday's presidential election in Bulgaria indicate there will be a run-off between the two leading candidates in a week's time.

Low turnout shows collapse in people's trust in the state, in its ability to protect citizens

Georgi Parvanov
Exit polls suggest that current President Petar Stoyanov is narrowly trailing Socialist Party leader Georgi Parvanov.

But with voter turnout less than 50%, the two top contenders will have to go into a run-off on 18 November.

The Central Election Commission says that only about 39% of over six million eligible voters went to the polls, the lowest turnout since the fall of Communism a decade ago.

Incumbent Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov campaigns for re-election
Mr Stoyanov is having a harder time than expected
The BBC Central Europe reporter, Nick Thorpe, says the voters of Bulgaria have expressed their disillusion with their political leaders by either staying away from the polls altogether or registering a protest vote.

Surprise showing

Bulgarian experts had predicted that President Stoyanov would easily win the first round, as he was showing almost 50% approval in pre-election polls.

Mr Parvanov was not even expecting to be the president's closest rival, as polls had predicted former Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev would be the nearest challenger.

"Those elections showed that people want change, they want a new president," Mr Parvanov told a news conference, after hearing that he had reached the run-off.

"People are demotivated because every day their lives are getting worse and worse," he added.

The post of president in Bulgaria is largely ceremonial, but is important for the country's international image.

The bespectacled, 49-year-old Mr Stoyanov had remained reasonably popular despite the waning fortunes of his former party, the Union of Democratic Forces.

The former King Simeon II, now Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg
Simeon II: Swept to power but is struggling to deliver
They lost power in parliamentary elections in June to the movement named after the former King, Simeon II, who is now Bulgarian prime minister.

Mr Stoyanov, who is running as independent candidate, enjoys a backing both by the prime minister and the previously ruling UDF party.

But commentators say his popularity has been dented by a heated election campaign, with all six candidates being increasingly engaged in a war of mudslinging.

All three leading contenders for the post agreed on major issues, including the country's determination to join both the European Union and Nato in the coming years.

The European Union has praised Bulgaria for recent reforms but criticised for high levels of corruption.

See also:

18 Jun 01 | Europe
East European royalty in exile
18 Jun 01 | Europe
Simeon's recipe for change
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