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Bulgarians Vote To Elect Parliament, President In Latest Bid To End Political Deadlock.

SOFIA -- Voters in Bulgaria go to the polls on November 14 to elect a parliament and a president in a bid to break a months-long political deadlock and secure a government to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic as well as rising energy prices and endemic corruption.

No party is expected to win an outright majority in the parliamentary election, the third such vote this year, opening the door to more difficult coalition talks in a deeply divided parliament.

Failure to form a government could slow Bulgaria’s plan to adopt the euro currency by 2024 and delay measures to soften the impact of high energy costs on consumers this winter.

A member of both NATO and the European Union, Bulgaria has been plagued by rampant corruption since overthrowing communism more than three decades ago. It is the EU's poorest member and routinely comes in at the bottom of the bloc for perceptions of corruption and media freedom.

Boyko Borissov, who was at the helm for more than a decade, stepped down as prime minister in April after widespread anti-corruption protests against him and his center-right GERB party, the Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria.

That led to two inconclusive parliamentary polls in April and July, prompting this third attempt.

Opinion polls suggest Borissov’s GERB will be the party that wins the most seats up for grabs in the 240-seat National Assembly. But its lack of obvious coalition partners will likely lead to difficulties cobbling together the majority needed to govern.

In the race for the largely ceremonial presidency, incumbent Ramun Radev is favored to win a second five-year term. But it is unclear whether he will secure the 50-percent majority needed on November 14 to avoid a runoff.

Polls open at 7 a.m. and are due to close at 8 p.m. First preliminary results are expected soon thereafter.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are monitoring the vote.

One of the final opinion polls before the vote, conducted on November 11 by Alpha Research, gave GERB 24.1 percent support among likely voters. It was followed by We Continue the Change, a new centrist party, with 16.5 percent, and the leftist Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) with 16 percent.

The same poll showed Democratic Bulgaria (DB) -- a coalition of three left parties -- with 10.2 percent, the anti-establishment There Is Such A People (ITN), with 9.9 percent, and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) party at 9.8 percent, meaning all would secure seats in parliament, the National Assembly.

ITN, established in February 2020 by popular late-night talk show host and folk-pop singer Slavi Trifonov, narrowly won the second 2021 election on July 11, but failed to form a coalition government.

If GERB wins the most seats in the parliamentary election, Borissov told Bulgarian media he would not rule out seeking the support of DPS -- largely supported by members of Bulgaria's Muslim, Romany, and Turkish communities -- which he had in the past deemed political opponents. Borissov also named DB as ‘natural allies.”

However, according to Ivaylo Ditchev, a Bulgarian political scientist, a coalition between GERB and DPS would be difficult to reach. Ditchev predicted in comments to RFE/RL’s Bulgarian Service that talks on forming a new government will likely again be inconclusive, forcing yet another parliamentary poll.

We Continue the Change, established by Kiril Petkov and Assen Vassilev in September, could score big in the parliamentary election, said Alexey Pamporov, a political scientist at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

“We were all laughing when they stated that they will do “left” policy with “right” instruments," but that is exactly what they are proposing. In terms of economy, energy, business, and tourism they are very right-minded. But in terms of social policies, education, healthcare they lean left,” Pamporov told RFE/RL.

Petkov, 41, and Vassilev, 44, served for some four months as interim economy and finance ministers earlier this year, gaining public support for efforts to uncover wrongdoing in state institutions under GERB and Borissov.

In May, Petkov found that state-run Bulgarian Development Bank, set up to support small business, had extended 946 million levs ($559.43 million) in loans to just eight companies.

Vassilev boasted of boosting tax collection by 2.5 billion levs by increasing controls on big businesses that operate with public and EU funds.

Two other parties, Stand Up.BG! We are coming! and the right-wing pro-Russian “Rebirth” (Vazrajdane) party were hovering in opinion polls just below the 4 percent threshold needed to win seats in parliament.

In the presidential election, Radev, who has maintained high approval ratings since he was elected in 2016, was leading in polling conducted by Alpha Research with 46.4 percent.

A former air force commander, Radev has the backing of several parties, including the BSP, ITN, and is a vocal critic of Borissov.

His strongest challenge should come from Anastas Gerdzhikov, who is backed by GERB, which has accused Radev of dividing the nation. The latest Alpha Research polling put Gerdzhikov at 28.3 percent.

Far behind in that poll in third was Mustafa Kradaya, the DPS candidate, with 7.1 percent, followed by Lozan Panov, the Democratic Bulgaria candidate, with 6.9 percent.

If no presidential candidate wins at least 50 percent in the first round, a runoff between the two leading vote-getters will be held a week later on November 21.

With reporting by Reuters

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