Zhelev Clear Favorite in Jan. 12 Presidential Vote
SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) _ President Zhelyu Zhelev is considered such a shoo-in for Bulgaria’s first direct presidential election Sunday that one newspaper has already congratulated him for winning.
None of the score of other candidates for the five-year term appears to have any real chance against the 56-year-old philosopher and former dissident.
He is the candidate and former leader of the anti-Communist Union of Democratic Forces, which controls the government of what once was the most loyal of Soviet satellites.
″Everywhere people want changes - in the court, in the prosecutor’s office, in the police and in the state institutions,″ Zhelev said at a news conference Friday. And that’s what he promised to give them.
Bulgaria is suffering hard times. Industrial production dropped 24 percent in 1991, and the country of 9 million people has 400,000 unemployed - 10 percent of the workforce. Inflation in 1992 is expected to be about 3.5 percent a month.
But Zhelev has gained wide popularity and moral authority since being chosen by parliament to the largely ceremonial post in August 1990,
Friday’s edition of Fax, an independent newspaper, published a big front- page headline saying ″Zhelyu and Blaga won on Sunday. Congratulations 3/8″
His running mate for vice president is 70-year-old Blaga Dimitrova, a prominent writer. If elected, she would be the first woman in recent East European history to occupy such a high post.
Both Zhelev and Dimitrova were persecuted under Communist rule.
If any candidate fails to muster the required 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election will be held between the top frontrunners.
About 6.5 million people are eligible to vote. Another 500,000 Bulgarians living in 54 countries also will vote, including 200,000 ethnic Turks who fled Bulgaria under Communist strongman Todor Zhivkov and are now living in Turkey.
The Socialist Party, the former Communists, who were voted out of government for the first time since World War II, have not registered a candidate of their own. But they said they will support Velko Valkanov, a 54- year-old lawyer.
The Union of Democratic Forces formed a government after defeating the Socialists in Oct. 13 elections.