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Socialist Ousts Bulgaria's President

Vote: Georgi Parvanov wins largely ceremonial office with calls for economic reforms.

November 19, 2001|From Times Wire Services

SOFIA, Bulgaria — A Socialist credited with reforming his previously Communist party claimed victory Sunday in Bulgaria's runoff ballot for president.

Georgi Parvanov, leader of the opposition Socialist Party, won 53.3% of the vote compared with 46.7% for incumbent Petar Stoyanov, according to the Alpha Research polling agency.

"For me, it is a victory for the whole of Bulgaria, a victory of an idea of a revival of Bulgaria which reflects people's desire for a profound change," Parvanov said at a news conference.

Final election results were expected today. Turnout was 54.5%, the Central Election Commission said.

Parvanov, a 44-year-old historian, pledged Sunday to work toward easing Bulgaria's economic burdens.

"I will work for Bulgaria's strategic choice--Bulgaria's membership in the European Union and NATO," he said.

In Bulgaria, the presidency is a largely ceremonial position, with real power resting with the prime minister and parliament. However, the office still carries considerable moral authority and legislative veto power.

Stoyanov, a 49-year-old lawyer, ran as an independent with the backing of the center-right Union of Democratic Forces.

The election results reflected a growing demand for change among Bulgarians disillusioned by the decade of economic hardship that followed the fall of communism.

It also signaled discontent with the pace of reforms implemented by Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the former king whose National Movement Simeon II party overwhelmingly won June parliamentary elections.

Parvanov's Socialist Party garnered only 18% of the vote in the June elections, but he gained the backing of a party representing Bulgaria's 800,000 ethnic Turks, as well as support from several Gypsy organizations and retirees' unions.

"Parvanov's result significantly exceeds the vote that his party is able to attract," political analyst Andrei Raichev said.

Saxe-Coburg-Gotha had urged Bulgarians to vote for Stoyanov, but some of his party's members disagreed. The Turks, whose party is a coalition partner, also distanced themselves from his call.

"I will be a president of all Bulgarians irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or political affiliations," Parvanov said.

Parvanov rose to the helm of his party in 1996 amid mass street protests against economic mismanagement and rampant crime.

Under his leadership, the Socialists set out on a path of reforming themselves along the lines of Western Europe's social democrats and joined the bid for Bulgarian membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Socialist Party candidates lost in two previous post-Communist presidential elections held in this country of 7.9 million.

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