Entrepreneur and political newcomer Kiril Petkov scored unexpectedly strongly in Bulgaria’s election on Sunday, according to exit polls that suggested he was close to winning the vote and could then lead the formation of a coalition.
Bulgaria has held three general elections within a year. Former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who dominated the country’s politics for more than a decade, was forced out of power in April amid a rule-of-law crisis, but the country’s smaller parties have so far failed to corral a workable coalition to replace his center-right GERB party.
That deadlock could now end with Sunday’s breakthrough by the new Continuing the Change party, which was founded by Harvard-trained businessman Petkov and the economist Assen Vassilev.
The duo have seized upon the popularity they gained with their anti-corruption stance in the country’s caretaker government, in which they served as ministers, and are pledging to divert improperly allocated millions from graft toward education and healthcare.
In an interview with the Dnevnik newspaper, Petkov and Vassilev said that they were their party’s nominees for prime minister and finance minister respectively, but stressed that these were not preconditions for building a coalition.
“Bulgaria is starting out on a new road and we will succeed in developing the full potential of this country,” a beaming Petkov told reporters in central Sofia.
According to an exit poll by Alpha Research broadcast by the BNT channel, Continuing the Change took 24.1 percent of the vote. Borissov’s GERB party was first past the post with 24.8 percent, according to Alpha, but is not expected to be able to find enough allies for coalition building.
A poll by Gallup put Continuing the Change ahead of Borissov with 25.7 percent versus 23.5 percent.
The swing toward Petkov’s party is only likely to increase when votes from abroad are counted.
Continuing the Change will, however, now need to enter into coalition talks, with no guarantees of success.
Still, potential partners are already showing their willingness to cooperate. These include the Socialists, the anti-corruption party Democratic Bulgaria and a party called There is Such a People, founded by singer and talk-show host Slavi Trifonov.
In the contest to become president, also held on Sunday, Socialist-aligned incumbent Rumen Radev won by a large margin over his closest rival, taking 49.1 percent of votes cast, according to the Alpha Research poll. There will, however, have to be a second round as the turnout and his percentage of the vote were too low for him to secure an outright victory in the first round.