Politics | November 20, 2001, Tuesday // 00:00

Associated Press

A former communist committed to Bulgaria's membership in the European Union and NATO has emerged as the clear winner of presidential elections, according to final results released Tuesday.

The results from Sunday's runoff election gave Socialist Georgi Parvanov 54.13 percent compared to 45.87 percent for incumbent President Petar Stoyanov. Turnout was 55 percent, the Central Election Commission said.

After Poland and Romania, and 12 years after the collapse of communist rule, Bulgaria is the third former Soviet bloc country to elect an ex-communist as head of state.

For Bulgarians with one of Europe's lowest per capita incomes - an average salary of 250 leva (dlrs 120) monthly - Parvanov's promise to be "socially engaged" appeared to carry even more weight than his backing of NATO and European Union membership for Bulgaria.

Parvanov's victory reflects discontent with the pace of reforms implemented by Prime Minister Simeon Saxcoburggotski, the former king whose party overwhelmingly won the general elections in June. Many Bulgarians hoped Saxcoburggotski, who backed Stoyanov in the presidential race, would have brought quicker change.

Parvanov, a 44-year-old historian, who rose to the helm of the reform-oriented Socialist Party at the end of 1996, pledges to put national interests above party interests.

Under his leadership, the Socialists reformed, modeling themselves on western European social democrats. While supporting Bulgaria's attempts to move closer to western Europe, he also pledged to revitalize economic ties with former eastern European allies.

Parvanov also promised to promote minority interests through "an active social and economic policy and recruitment of representatives of the minorities into the government."

The Bulgarian presidency is a largely ceremonial position, with real power resting with the prime minister and parliament, but the office still carries considerable moral authority and legislative veto power.

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