Exit polls in Bulgaria suggest that incumbent Rumen Radev has won the country’s presidential runoff.
Partial official result on Sunday showed Radev had won 66.7 per cent of the second-round vote over the conservative candidate Anastas Gerdzikov.
The 58-year-old now seems set for a second five-year term in the largely ceremonial post and will be formally reappointed in January.
Sofia University rector Gerdzhikov, who was backed by the center-right GERB party of former prime minister Boyko Borissov, trailed with just 32 per cent — according to exit polls — and has conceded defeat.
Some 3 per cent of the voters have voted against both candidates.
Radev, a vocal critic of Borissov and firm supporter of last year’s anti-corruption protests, has attracted many Bulgarians who are fed up with politicians they see as corrupt.
Radev has appointed two consecutive caretaker governments that unveiled alleged corruption cases in Bulgaria’s industrial and financial sectors.
“Let’s not give the past a chance to torpedo our future. Let everyone find 15 minutes today [to vote] so that we do not waste the next five years,” Radev said after casting his ballot on Sunday.
Although an independent candidate, Radev is broadly aligned with the “We Continue the Change”, a newly-founded electoral alliance that won in the latest parliamentary elections and now hopes to find coalition partners to end more than six months of political deadlock in the country.
Bulgaria has been facing its worst political crisis since the end of communism three decades ago.
But just one day after his election victory, Radev drew criticism from the United States for his remarks about the status of the Crimean Peninsula.
The US embassy in Bulgaria voiced “deep concern” over Radev’s recent comments that referred to Crimea as Russian.
The peninsula was annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014, and NATO and the European Union both consider it still to be part of Ukraine.
But in a presidential debate with Gerdzhikov last Thursday, Radev insisted upon having pragmatic ties with Russia, adding that the EU should restore its dialogue with Moscow.
The remarks had already prompted protests from the Ukrainian government.
“The United States, G-7, European Union, and NATO have all been clear and united in our position that, despite Russia’s attempted annexation and ongoing occupation, Crimea is Ukraine,” the US embassy said on Monday.
“All of us, including Bulgaria, declared at the Crimea Platform Summit in August that Crimea is an integral part of Ukraine and that we do not and will not recognize Russia’s efforts to legitimize its illegal seizure and occupation of the peninsula,” the statement said.
While Bulgaria is a member of both the EU and NATO, many citizens still feel a cultural and historical affinity with Russia, and the Black Sea country remains heavily dependent on Russian energy.