(Updates with all votes counted in second paragraph, OSCE statement in last three paragraphs.)
Oct. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Rosen Plevneliev, nominated by Bulgaria’s ruling party Gerb, may become the next president as the European Union’s poorest nation struggles to combat corruption amid a slowing economy.
Plevneliev, a 47-year-old computer engineer, had 42.8 percent support with all of ballots counted, the Central Election Committee in the capital Sofia said today. In an Oct. 30 runoff, he will face Ivailo Kalfin, 47, a member of the European Parliament. Kalfin, who is running on the ticket of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, had 30.47 percent.
Prime Minister’s Boiko Borissov’s Gerb party swept to power 27 months ago, pledging to root out corruption and organized crime and boost living standards. The election, which coincides with voting for city councils, is a test for the government before parliamentary elections in 2013.
“The fact that our candidates gained such good results in a situation of a severe financial crisis is a vote of confidence in our policies,” Borissov told reporters in Sofia yesterday. “It shows we were on the right track to sustain financial stability, while other countries are going bankrupt.”
EU concern about the rule of law has prevented Bulgaria from being admitted to the bloc’s passport-free zone. The economic recovery faltered in the second quarter as demand slumped in the 27-nation trading zone, which buys about 60 percent of the country’s exports.
Yordanka Fandakova, also a member of Gerb, was re-elected for a second term in the capital Sofia in the first round, the committee said. Final results will be released tomorrow evening, Bisser Trayanov, a spokesman for the Central Election Commission, told reporters today.
Second-quarter gross domestic product rose 1.9 percent from a year earlier, the slowest in three quarters, after a 3.4 percent expansion in the previous three-month period. The economy will probably grow 2.8 percent this year and 2.9 percent in 2012, Finance Minister Simeon Djankov said on Oct. 18.
Bulgaria weathered the global financial crisis without seeking bailout loans from international lenders. The country of 7.3 million people kept taxes at the lowest level in the EU and aims to narrow its budget deficit to 2 percent of GDP this year from 3.9 percent in 2010.
“With these election results, Borissov’s Gerb party consolidates its power,” Andrei Raichev, director of the Bulgarian branch of Gallup International, told reporters in Sofia yesterday.
Plevneliev ran a construction business before joining Borissov’s Cabinet as development minister in 2009, where he focused on upgrading Bulgaria’s highway network closer to EU standards. Incumbent Georgi Parvanov, elected to a second five- year term in 2007, was prevented by the constitution from seeking a third term.
While executive power lies with the government, the president is the army’s commander-in-chief and has the right to veto laws, propose to parliament the appointment of cabinets and call early elections. He names ambassadors and the heads of the intelligence and security services.
“Bulgaria needs a president who’ll unite the nation and ensure political stability at the time of severe financial crisis in Europe,” Plevneliev said in an interview with public radio Horizont in Sofia today. “An opposition president will put at risk Bulgaria’s financial stability.”
The election was marred by reports including allegations of vote-buying and threats of firing people if they didn’t support a given candidate in small towns and villages, Diana Kovacheva, director of the Bulgarian arm of Transparency International, said in an interview with Horizont yesterday.
Vote prices ranged around 100 lev ($71), the Sofia-based Capital newspaper reported, citing unidentified voters it interviewed yesterday.
“Persistent and widespread allegations of vote-buying undermined confidence in the election process, despite the authorities’ efforts to combat such practices,” Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors elections, said in a statement today.
Minorities including Roma, who account for 4.9 percent of the population and are among the poorest and least educated, “were particularly susceptible to undue influence such as vote- buying and pressure,” the OSCE said.
All political parties had to include warnings against vote- buying in campaign materials under an amendment to the election law. Proven cases are punishable with up to three years in prison and a fine of as much as 3,000 lev.
“Almost all campaign coverage by the media was paid for by the contestants, as provided by law,” the OSCE said. “This resulted in the near absence of independent editorial coverage or analysis of the campaign in the public and private media. The predominance of paid campaign coverage impacted negatively on the level of information available to voters.”
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