Bulgaria's president calls for new faces ahead of general election

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Bulgarian President Rumen Radev attends a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, urged Bulgarians on Thursday to think carefully before voting in Sunday's election, saying the Balkan country needed new faces and ideas.

In a televised address to the nation, Radev said voting will determine whether public money will be spent properly, media freedom improved and fast and fair justice administered in the European Union's poorest member state.

Bulgaria also ranks as the EU's most corrupt member state according to Transparency International. It has been criticised for years by the European Commission over a failure to overhaul its graft-prone judiciary and to put a single high-ranking official behind bars on corruption charges.

Radev supported massive anti-graft protests that sought to topple Borissov last summer. Demonstrators accused Borissov of weakening state institutions for the benefit of local oligarchs and businesses close to his centre-right GERB party.

Borissov has denied such accusations and refused to step down. He maintains that the Balkan country needed a functioning government to lead it through the coronavirus pandemic that has strained hospitals and hammered its small and open economy.

"The time for the regular elections has come and the pandemic is still here...It is time to draw the line. It is time for new ideas, new faces and new trust in the institutions," Radev said in his speech.

The protests weighed on the popularity of three-times premier Borissov, but failed to produce a clear alternative to his rule and his GERB party has slowly regained support even as the number of coronavirus infections has surged.

Polls show that GERB has extended its lead over the opposition Socialists ahead of the election though will struggle to form a working coalition in a fragmented parliament where seven parties are expected to win seats.

In its pre-election campaign Borissov pledged to restart the economy, build more highways, boost the average monthly wages by 35% to 1,000 euros in four years, keep taxes unchanged and lead Bulgaria into the eurozone in 2024.

(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Mark Heinrich)