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Conservative, leftist up for Bulgaria presidency

October 29, 2011

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SOFIA, Bulgaria—Bulgarians on Sunday were to decide between a member of the ruling center-right party and a leftist ex-foreign minister in an election run-off for the presidency of the impoverished, corruption-plagued country.

Although most of the power in Bulgaria rests with the prime minister and Parliament, the president leads the armed forces and can veto legislation and sign international treaties.

A vote last Sunday yielded two top candidates, neither of whom achieved the 50 percent required for outright victory. Ruling conservative party candidate Rosen Plevneliev garnered just over 40 percent of votes, while Ivailo Kalfin -- who ran on the opposition Socialist party ticket -- got nearly 29 percent.

With the gap between the front-runners just over 375,000 votes, both candidates have tried to rally support outside their parties' traditional voters.

Plevneliev, 47, a former entrepreneur, has been lauded for pushing through several large-scale infrastructure projects as regional development minister in the incumbent cabinet. He has pledged to reduce the budget deficit and pursue business-friendly policies in the economically struggling country.

Kalfin, 47, has pledged to safeguard democracy and the rule of law. The European Parliament member is one of the few top left-wing politicians seen as largely untainted by the Socialist party's communist past. During his term as foreign minister, Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007.

The winner replaces Georgi Parvanov, a former leader of the Socialist Party who has often criticized the government and used his powers to veto legislation or key judicial office or diplomatic service appointments. Parvanov has served two five-year terms, the legal limit.

Former European Commissioner Meglena Kuneva, running as an independent, came in third in last Sunday's vote. But Kuneva has refused to endorse Kalfin or Plevneliev for the second round, saying they both stand for things she cannot agree to.

Polls open at 6 a.m. (0400 GMT) on Sunday and close at 7 p.m. (1700 GMT). Some 6.9 million people are eligible to vote.

International observers have already voiced concerns about the fairness of last Sunday's elections, and any fraudulent voting could deal a blow to Bulgaria's hopes of getting into Europe's passport-free Schengen travel zone. The EU has so far has refused to include Bulgaria due to what it called widespread graft.

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