Bulgaria’s leader seeks 4th term amid pandemic, protests | World News

SOFIA, Bugaria (AP) — Bulgarians voted Sunday in a parliamentary election widely seen as a referendum on the country’s center-right prime minister after months of anti-government protests and amid a surge in coronavirus infections.

Prime Minister Boyko Borissov is hoping to win his fourth term in office. The 61-year-old macho-style politician has led the populist GERB party since its founding in December 2006 and ruled Bulgaria with an iron grip for most of the last 11 years.

“I have always taken into account what the people decide…Let the elections be honest,” Borissov was quoted as saying in a party press release after he cast his ballot without reporters present due to pandemic restrictions.

Borissov has avoided contact with journalists since the protests started in July, instead relying on social media to broadcast his almost daily campaign stops at construction sites while promoting his party’s slogan: “Work, work, work.”

Support for Borrissov at home and aboard has eroded since thousands took to the streets and accused the government of meddling with oligarchs, failing to eliminate graft and poverty and overhaul the judicial system.

Bulgaria, which joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2007. Allies have repeatedly criticized the Balkan country for corruption and deficiencies in the rule of law and media freedom, but Borissov trumpeted its ties with the West on Sunday..

“The immense support we received from our counterparts in Europe shows the importance of a stable European government in Bulgaria,” he said.

The country’s 12,000 polling stations opened at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. for the 6.7 million eligible voters who are electing 240 lawmakers.

The latest election polls suggested that while the vote may produce a fragmented parliament that will struggle to elect a new government, Borissov’s GERB will end up with the most seats. The polls showed the party 5-10 percentage points ahead of its main challenger, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, but far from gaining the absolute majority needed to govern alone.

The leader of the Socialists, Kornelia Ninova, said she voted for “reforms and stability,” and for “a social Bulgaria which won’t leave anyone alone in the crisis.”

Several smaller groups are expected to ride the anti-government sentiment to secure 4% threshold required to enter parliament for the first time. One of them, led by a popular TV entertainer, is projected to place third.

Despite opposition criticism of the government’s response to the pandemic, an expected lower turnout because of fears of infection and the absence of postal or proxy voting could benefit incumbent lawmakers.

Results from exit polling are set to be announced after the polls close. Preliminary results are expected around midnight Sunday.

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