Bulgaria’s President Rumen Radev won his second term on November 21, gaining nearly two-thirds of the votes in the runoff against Gerb-backed Anastas Gerdzhikov, exit polls indicated. 63.9% of the votes cast went to Radev versus just 33.1% for Gerdzhikov, while 3% of respondents said they do not support either of the candidates, according to an exit poll from Trend agency.
Radev’s victory was expected as the president enjoyed a high rating during his first mandate and, since the summer of 2020, has been seen as the politician who is leading people against the status quo. He backed the mass anti-corruption protests in summer 2020 and when the April 2021 general election failed to produce a majority in parliament, installed a caretaker government that has been determined to uncover corruption from previous administrations.
In fact, a highly controversial raid of Radev's offices and the arrest of two of his advisors by the prosecution was what sparked the thousands-strong, months-long protests against the then government of Gerb’s Boyko Borissov and chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev.
A new government has not yet been formed since the latest general election, held simultaneously with the first round of the presidential election early this month, but the most likely formation is a broad coalition led by newly formed Change Continues alongside several smaller parties. If Change Continues, founded by two former caretaker ministers, manages to strike a deal on a new government, that would put reformers in both the government and the presidency.
“Bulgaria is exiting standstill and autocracy and is taking the path of modernisation,” Radev said in his first statement after the exit polls were released.
“The return of the status quo on a white horse did not happen. Despite the huge funds, insinuations and propaganda that was flooding us every day, Bulgaria passed this exam in democracy. It did not succumb to attempts at sparking ethnic tensions,” Radev also said.
He added that an unprecedented month of dual elections has ended, showing the clear will of the people for change, for putting an end to corruption, thefts and lack of rule of law, as well as the will to remove the mafia from the state institutions.
Despite this, turnout in the second round of voting was below 40% and, according to analysts, was the lowest of any presidential election so far. Despite his popularity, Radev was unable to mobilise the majority of the electorate to cast their ballots in the runoff as this is yet another vote in the country where three general elections were also held this year and people were already tired of voting.
Radev’s victory was welcomed by some, while others commented he was the better option although he was not their preferred candidate in principle.
Gerdzhikov accused state institutions of working in favour of Radev during the election campaign and claimed that, thanks to his own campaign, Radev will now be forced to unite the nation instead of disuniting it. The president has been repeatedly accused by Gerb and the ethnic-Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) of disuniting the nation.
Radev was the loudest critic of Gerb while in power and has repeatedly pointed out the controversial connections between the party and the DPS.
The accusations from Gerb and DPS were not supported by other politicians, even those whose political stance is not aligned with Radev’s.
“Radev won a second term. People preferred him due to his position towards the reality and the actions of Gerb,” prominent communications expert Lubomir Alamanov commented on Facebook.
Vladislav Panev, a co-leader of the Green Movement party, part of reformist Democratic Bulgaria, commented that Radev was the better option for Bulgaria.