Anti-corruption party holds lead in Bulgaria’s elections

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An elderly man walks in Vitosha Boulevard in central Sofia, Saturday, Nov.13, 2021. Voters will go to the polls in Bulgaria for the third time in seven months this weekend after no party secured enough support in the previous two elections in April and July to form a stable government. “The winner in Sunday’s election will be the GERB party, but after last year’s protests it has become clear that it is in political isolation,” Parvan Simeonov, a Sofia-based political analyst for Gallup International, told The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — A newly founded anti-corruption party held a narrow lead in the preliminary vote count from Bulgaria’s parliamentary elections Sunday.

A parallel count conducted by Gallup International gave the centrist We Continue the Change party 26.3% of the votes, leading the center-right opposition GERB party of former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov by just over three percentage points.

Founded only few weeks ago by two Harvard graduates, Kiril Petkov and Asen Vasilev, the party quickly won support due to their resolute anti-graft actions and pledges to bring transparency, zero tolerance for corruption and reforms to key sectors in the European Union’s poorest member.

“We will be the number one political force,” Petkov told reporters after initial results were released. “We will have a majority of 121 MPs in the 240-seat parliament and Bulgaria will have a regular coalition Cabinet.”

It could be days before the final official results are announced. If they confirm the initial counts, Petkov would be handed a mandate to form a new government.

Petkov said his party was open to coalition talks with all the parties that were part of last year’s protests against Boyko Borissov’s government. Investigations by the current caretaker government showed alleged corruption cases.

“Now is the time to show that Bulgaria has embarked on the road of change and there is no turning back,” said Petkov.

After Bulgaria held inconclusive general elections in April and July, many hoped this third attempt to elect 240 lawmakers would result in a government that can lead the country out of its health and economic crises.

Five other parties appeared headed to winning spots in the 240-seat chamber, according to the exit poll. They include the ethnic Turkish MRF party with 11.4%, the Socialist Party with 10.4% support, the anti-elite There is Such a People party with 9.3%, the liberal anti-corruption group Democratic Bulgaria with 6.4%, and the nationalist Revival party with 5%.

The vote Sunday for a new parliament and a new president came amid a surge of coronavirus infections. The Balkan country is the least vaccinated in the EU, with less than one-third of its adults fully vaccinated. Bulgaria reported 334 COVID-related deaths last week in a single day, a pandemic record.

The Gallup International exit poll also suggested that President Rumen Radev has a commanding lead in his quest for a second five-year term but will still have to face runner-up Anastas Gerdzhikov in a Nov. 21 runoff as voter turnout remained below the needed 50%.

Radev, a vocal critic of Borissov, said Sunday that he voted for freedom, legality, and justice.

“These are the values I stand for,” he said after casting his ballot. “The stakes are huge and will determine whether the process of consolidating statehood will continue or those acting from behind the scenes will regain institutional power.”

Some 6.7 million people were eligible to vote. The Central Election Commission said preliminary voter turnout was nearly 40%, lower than in previous elections.

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