A newly founded anti-corruption party appears to be leading in Bulgaria's parliamentary election Sunday (US time), initial exit poll data suggests.
The exit poll conducted by Gallup International showed the centrist We Continue the Change party earning 25.8 per cent of the vote, apparently edging out the centre-right opposition GERB party of former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov by more than 2 per cent.
Founded only few weeks ago by two Harvard graduates, Kiril Petkov, 41, and Asen Vasilev, 44, the party has quickly won wide support due to their resolute anti-graft actions and pledges to bring transparency, zero tolerance for corruption and reforms to key sectors in the European Union's poorest member.
"I voted for changes to continue. I voted because I think that Bulgaria can do more," Petkov said Sunday.
After Bulgaria held inconclusive general elections in April and July, many hoped that this third attempt to elect 240 lawmakers would result in a government that can lead the country out of its health and economic crises.
Five other parties are said to have made it into the 240-seat chamber, according to the exit poll. They include the Socialist Party with 14.4 per cent support, the ethnic Turkish MRF party with 10.2 per cent, the anti-elite There is Such a People party with 8.1 per cent, the liberal anti-corruption group Democratic Bulgaria with 7 per cent, and the nationalist Revival party with 4.3 per cent.
It could be days before the final official results are announced. If they confirm the exit poll, Petkov, the leader of the We Continue the Change, will be handed a mandate to form a new government.
The vote Sunday for a new parliament and a new president came amid a surge of coronavirus infections. The Balkan country is the least vaccinated in the EU, with less than one-third of its adults fully vaccinated. Bulgaria reported 334 Covid-related deaths last week in a single day, a pandemic record.
The Gallup International exit poll also suggested that President Rumen Radev has a commanding lead in his quest for a second five-year term but will still have to face runner-up Anastas Gerdzhikov in a November 21 runoff as voter turnout remained below the needed 50 per cent.
Radev, a vocal critic of Borissov, said Sunday that he voted for freedom, legality, and justice.
"These are the values I stand for," he said after casting his ballot. "The stakes are huge and will determine whether the process of consolidating statehood will continue or those acting from behind the scenes will regain institutional power."
Some 6.7 million people were eligible to vote. The Central Election Commission said preliminary voter turnout was nearly 40 per cent, lower than in previous elections.