Former Dissident Seeking Re-Election as President
SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) _ Bulgarians went to the polls Sunday to elect a president after a first round of voting, involving 21 candidates, was inconclusive.
Incumbent President Zhelyu Zhelev, a 56-year-old philosopher and former dissident, is pitted against Velko Valkanov, 64, a lawyer who says he is independent but is supported by the Socialist Party of renamed Communists.
Polls opened Sunday at 6 a.m. (11 p.m. EST) and close at 7 p.m. (noon EST). But some polling places can stay open longer if voters remain in line. Early projected results are expected to be announced before midnight (5 p.m. EST).
In the first round of voting last Sunday, Zhelev got 44 percent of the vote, while Valkanov took 30 percent. But independent Georges Ganchev took 17 percent of the vote, possibly preventing Zhelev from winning outright.
About 73 percent of the 6.5 million people eligible to vote cast ballots.
Since being elected by parliament for the largely ceremonial post in August 1990, Zhelev has gained wide popularity and moral authority. He is a former leader of the anti-Communist Union of Democratic Forces, or UDF, now the governing party, and is the UDF’s presidential candidate.
His running mate for vice president is 70-year-old Blaga Dimitrova, a prominent writer. If elected, she would be the first woman in Eastern Europe countries to attain such a post.
Both Zhelev and Dimitrova were persecuted by the Communists, who ruled for four decades.
Under the new constitution, the president of the republic is elected for a five-year term by popular vote.
While he holds a largely ceremonial post, the president is nominally commander of the armed forces and heads a Concultative Council for National Security.