Bulgaria's PM resigns after party defeated in presidential election

Bulgaria's prime minister has handed in his resignation in parliament after results showed his party losing badly in the presidential runoff, opening the way for an early parliamentary election.

'We accept the will of the people,' says Boiko Borisov, to be succeeded by Rumen Radev

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov announces his resignation, during a press conference next to his presidential nominee Tsetska Tsacheva, in Sofia, Bulgaria on Sunday. Exit polls showed his party losing badly in Sunday's runoff presidential election. (Valentina Petrova/Associated Press)

Bulgaria's prime minister has handed in his resignation in parliament after results showed his party losing badly in the presidential run-off, opening the way for an early parliamentary election.

Boiko Borisov's move Monday come after official results in Bulgaria show Socialist-backed candidate Rumen Radev, a former non-partisan air force chief, winning the presidential election.

The Central Election Commission said Monday that with 99.3 per cent of the ballots counted, Radev won 59.4 per cent of the vote, compared with 36.2 per cent for the candidate of the ruling centre-right party, Tsetska Tsacheva.

Radev, who will take office for a five-year term on Jan. 22, will face a possible rise in migrants from neighbouring Turkey and growing tensions between Russia and the West.

Radev surprises in 1st round voting

In the first round of voting, Radev surprisingly finished first with 25 per cent of the vote, followed by Tsacheva with 22 per cent.

"We listened [to the voters'] concerns. We said that we will work for Bulgarian national interests, that's what gave us broad support," a jubilant Radev told reporters.

Many in the Balkan country are keen to see restored trade with their former Soviet overlord, hurt by economic problems and sanctions, and to protect vital tourism revenues.

Speaking on Sunday evening, Radev said he hoped for good dialogue both with the United States and Russia and expressed hopes that with a new president in Washington, there will be a drop in confrontation between the West and Moscow.

Bulgarian Socialist Party candidate Rumen Radev arrives at a press conference after presidential elections in Sofia, Bulgaria on Sunday. Surveys by several polling organizations showed Radev, 53, taking about 58 per cent of the vote. (Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press)

"In his election campaign [Donald Trump], already elected, said clearly that he will work for a better dialogue with Russia. That gives us hope, a big hope, for a peaceful solution to the conflicts both in Syria and in Ukraine and for a decrease of the confrontation," Radev said.

Vulnerable to Russian pressure

Bulgaria, which joined the European Union a decade ago, remains the poorest member of the 28-nation bloc. Its 7.2 million people are very much divided in their loyalties.

Bulgaria belongs to NATO and the EU, but many Bulgarians still feel a cultural and historical affinity with Russia, and the country's heavy dependence on Russian energy supplies leaves it vulnerable to political pressure by the Kremlin.

Halfway into its four-year term, Borisov's coalition government managed to restore political stability after months of anti-corruption protests, but its popularity has faded due to the slow pace of reforms to eliminate graft and overhaul the judicial system.

A political rookie, Radev has attracted many Bulgarians who are fed up with corrupt politicians. The former NATO fighter pilot who once studied at the U.S. Air War College in Alabama, has pledged to maintain Bulgaria's place in NATO but also says "being pro-European does not mean being anti-Russian."

Tsacheva was expected to continue her party's pro-Europe foreign policy. She tried to rally other right-wing parties behind her, urging them not to allow "Bulgaria to return to the dark past" of being under Russia's thumb.

With files from Reuters