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Bulgarians to elect president to lead country into EU

Bulgarians to elect president to lead country into EU

Bulgarians are to choose the president who will lead their country into the European Union Sunday, with favored incumbent Georgi Parvanov likely heading into an embarrassing run-off with an ultranationalist.
Voter apathy _ fueled mainly by frustration with the tough economic and social reforms that ultimately ensured the Balkan country met requirements to join the European Union on Jan. 1 _ could shatter Parvanov's hopes for easy victory in the first round.
Still, he is widely expected to be re-elected to the largely ceremonial post, with opinion polls indicating that the 49-year-old former Socialist leader, who is running as an independent, could win between 50 and 58 percent of the votes.
But with polls indicating that less than 40 percent of Bulgaria's 6.4 million eligible voters will turn out, Parvanov could end up in a run-off against ultranationalist Volen Siderov. Under Bulgaria's electoral law, voter turnout must be above 50 percent for any candidate to win in the first round.
If turnout is low, a second round will be held on Oct. 29
Still, Parvanov has appeared confident of victory.
"In the next five years, I will work for ... a political culture consistent with the best Bulgarian and European traditions, and I will not tolerate the proponents of aggression and confrontation," he said at his last campaign rally late on Friday.
Six other candidates are vying for the post, but only two _ Siderov and right-wing candidate Nedelcho Beronov _ stand a chance of challenging Parvanov in a runoff.
Siderov, 50, has been tipped to win between 20 and 25 percent of the votes. His campaign has focused on a wave of disillusionment among the public with mainstream politicians.
"We will deal such a blow on the political mafia that it will never recover," Siderov told his supporters late Friday.
Often compared to France's Jean-Marie Le Pen, Siderov has enjoyed growing popularity with his anti-minority talk and calls for revision of certain privatization deals and renegotiating EU entry conditions _ views that some have branded "Nazi-like" and "anti-European."
"People vote for Siderov as a demonstration, as a punishment, as a protest against the system," analyst Yuri Aslanov said. "But most of them do not see him as a president," he added, suggesting that Siderov stood no real chances of election.
Right-wing candidate Nedelcho Beronov, a 78-year-old former chairman of the Constitutional Court, could collect between 12 and 18 percent of the ballots, and had only a theoretical chance of getting to a run-off. His campaign has been suffering from internal battles among the fractured right-wing parties that nominated him.
An opinion poll published Friday indicated Parvanov would win 50.5 percent of the votes, Siderov 23 percent, and Nedelcho Beronov, 18.3 percent.
About 1,300 Bulgarians were interviewed for the survey conducted by the National center for public opinion surveys on Oct. 19. No margin of error was given.
Parvanov would become the first president in post-Communist Bulgaria to win re-election. In 2001, he defeated his predecessor Petar Stoyanov at a run-off.
During Parvanov's presidency, Bulgaria became a NATO member in 2004, and got green light for joining the EU on Jan. 1.