Sunday November 18 5:56 PM ET

Ex-Communist Wins Bulgaria's Presidential Poll

By Anatoly Verbin

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgarians vented their frustrations over poverty and corruption by ousting President Petar Stoyanov on Sunday and electing a former Communist in his place.

The winning vote for Socialist Party leader Georgi Parvanov, 44, brought to an end a bizarre election year in which Bulgaria's last king -- thrown out by the communists in 1946 -- was returned by an overwhelming majority as prime minister in mid-June.

Stoyanov, 49, conceded defeat in a close run-off vote late on Sunday, ending a meteoric career which had started when he shot from obscurity to the presidency in 1996.

``My biggest pain is for the people who voted for me. We were just one step away from victory and I am sure they feel very dramatic about this loss,'' Stoyanov told reporters.

A triumphant Parvanov, head of the former Communist Party, said he was ready to work with the government of former King Simeon II -- now Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg -- and pursue Bulgaria's aims of joining NATO and the European Union.

The president has limited powers in the Balkan parliamentary republic but he is Bulgaria's face abroad.

``I will work for Bulgaria's strategic goals -- European Union and NATO membership,'' he told a news conference.

``I think it is also extremely important to revive Bulgaria's relations with Russia, Ukraine and other strategic partners,'' he added.

Bulgaria hopes to join the EU in 2006 and is also seeking an invitation next year to join NATO.


``I will be a president of all Bulgarians irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or political affiliations,'' Parvanov pledged.

Simeon Saxe-Coburg, 64, a former businessman who is related to Britain's Queen Elizabeth, won a resounding June victory from an electorate disillusioned with a bi-polar political model of socialists and the center-right UDF party, which had governed since 1997.

Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov was ousted in November 1989, the month the Berlin Wall fell. The Communists, restyled as the Socialist Party, won the first democratic parliamentary election the next year.

Stoyanov had appeared set for re-election, with the support of the UDF and the prime minister, when he declared his candidacy five months ago. But in the first voting round a week ago, Parvanov edged him out with 36 to 35 percent.

``I bear full responsibility for the election defeat. Probably I have made a lot of mistakes, and my mistakes must have been too big, so I have such a result now,'' Stoyanov said.

``That's political reality -- there are wins and there are defeats. I have seen them both.''

Parvanov has succeeded in striking a balance between reforming the former Communist Party into a modern social democratic party -- which he has headed since 1996 -- and keeping its core electorate of elderly ex-communists satisfied.

He hired a popular young film and TV scriptwriter as an image maker who directed a colorful campaign aimed at building Parvanov a new and modern image as a social democrat. His hobbies include the cinema, jogging and playing soccer.

While Saxe-Coburg's movement backed Stoyanov, its junior government coalition partner, the ethnic Turkish Movement for Freedoms and Rights, supported Parvanov.


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