SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — The ruling conservative party's candidate declared victory Sunday in Bulgaria's presidential run-off after exit polls indicated he had won handily and his Socialist challenger conceded defeat.
A win by Rosen Plevneliev means the ruling GERB party now controls all the major posts in Bulgaria, which will bolster its push for painful economic reforms in the struggling country, where the average monthly salary is euro350 ($485) and unemployment is 11.7 percent.
An exit poll, conducted by the Alpha Research agency, gave Plevneliev 54.8 percent of the votes, while indicating 45.2 percent of voters cast ballots for Ivailo Kalfin. Two other exit polls showed a similar margin. The Central Election Commission estimated turnout at 42 percent.
Official results are due Monday, but Kalfin conceded defeat after the exit polling. "The result is clear — we did not win the elections," he said.
Although most of the power in corruption-plagued Bulgaria, a Balkan country of 7.4 million, rests with the prime minister and Parliament, the president leads the armed forces and can veto legislation and sign international treaties.
The 47-year-old Plevneliev is a former entrepreneur who has been lauded for pushing through several large-scale infrastructure projects as regional development minister in the incumbent Cabinet. He has pledged to reduce the budget deficit and pursue business-friendly policies.
He also said he would do his best to unite Bulgarians in pursuit of reforms in the judicial and health care systems, while also diversifying energy supplies and improving trade.
"Bulgaria's European future means that the president should guarantee equal chances for the development of all regions in the country," Plevneliev said Sunday.
Prime Minister Boiko Borisov, meanwhile, said that by electing Plevneliev, "Bulgarians supported Bulgaria's stability and its European development."
The winner of the contest replaces Georgi Parvanov, a former leader of the Socialist Party who has often criticized the government and used his powers to veto legislation or key judicial office or diplomatic service appointments. Parvanov has served two five-year terms, the legal limit.
If final results confirm Plevneliev as the winner, he would take office Jan. 23.