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Anti-Communist Retains Presidency

January 20, 1992

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) _ President Zhelyu Zhelev was re-elected Sunday in the first direct presidential elections, according to preliminary returns.

Zhelev, a 56-year-old philosopher and leader of anti-Communist forces, won more than 53 percent of the vote for the five-year presidency, said Nikolai Valchanov of the Central Election Commission.

He said Zhelev’s rival, Communist-backed lawyer Velko Valkanov, had 47 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results with 46 percent of the ballots counted.

The state news agency BTA also declared Zhelev the winner, based on partial returns. Final results are expected Monday.

Zhelev’s slogan in the past few days - ″Democracy or Communism″ - was an attempt to attract voters disillusioned by more than four decades of Communist repression and mismanagement in this nation of 8.9 million people.

″One of the most important tasks, to my mind, is the implementation of the economic reform ... toward creating of economic and social stability,″ said Zhelev in a victory speech. ″That would be the biggest contribution for national security.″

Zhelev, however, appeared somewhat disappointed with the results, saying he expected ″bigger support from the voters.″

In the first round of voting Jan. 12, Zhelev received 44 percent of the vote, and Valkanov took 30 percent. Independent candidate Georges Ganchev got 17 percent in first-round voting, possibly preventing Zhelev from winning outright.

About 73 percent of the 6.5 million people eligible to vote cast ballots in the first round. The turnout for Sunday’s vote was not immediately known.

Valkanov, 65, was backed by the Socialist Party, the name adopted by Communists following the fall of strongman Todor Zhivkov in late 1989.

Zhelev, the candidate of the anti-Communist Union of Democratic Forces, was elected by parliament for the largely ceremonial presidency in August 1990.

His poplarity has grown despite serious economic problems, including widespread shortages of goods and a $10 billion foreign debt.

Zhelev’s running mate for vice president is 70-year-old Blaga Dimitrova, a prominent writer. 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.

While the presidency is largely a ceremonial post, the president is nominally commander of the armed forces and heads a Consultative Council for National Security. The president can also dissolve parliament and call elections.

Bulgaria’s first president after Zhivkov’s ouster was Petar Mladenov, who had been foreign minister for 18 years during the Communist regime.

Mladenov resigned in July 1990, bowing to mounting pressure from striking students and opposition groups.

Update hourly