Bulgarians head to the polls in a highly contested election that could trigger instability in the Black Sea nation. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) STORY: Bulgarians began voting on Sunday (November 6) to choose the country's next president in a highly contested election that could trigger political instability in the Black Sea nation and push it toward closer ties with Russia. Opinion polls show Tsetska Tsacheva, 58, the center-right GERB ruling party candidate, is likely to narrowly win the ballot but lose a subsequent runoff to Rumen Radev, 53, a Socialist Party ally who wants to end European Union sanctions against Moscow. If Tsacheva does lose, Radev's Socialists and other opposition groups could try to unseat the GERB party's minority government and trigger early parliamentary elections, observers say. That would lead to months of political uncertainty and a further slowdown in reforms, much needed after the collapse of Bulgaria's fourth-largest bank and massive anti-corruption protests that helped GERB win parliamentary elections in 2014. Latest opinion polls showed parliament speaker Tsacheva winning with 27.2 to 26.3 percent of the vote, against Radev's 22.5 to 23.1 percent. Nineteen other candidates are also running and most polls show Radev could win a runoff vote on Nov. 13, which has to be held between top two contenders if no one wins an overall majority. Bulgaria, seen as the Kremlin's most pliable satellite in Soviet times, has long been an anomaly in Europe, a country within EU and NATO structures yet feeling close to Russia. EU sanctions imposed on Moscow over its role in the pro-Russian separatist conflict in Ukraine have hurt North Atlantic Treaty Organization member Bulgaria financially. Most power in the country of 7.2 million rests with the prime minister and parliament, but the president leads the armed forces and can veto legislation, sign international treaties and appoint ambassadors.