The biggest star of the election night news conference by Roumen Radev was not the candidate himself, leading in the exit polls after the first round of presidential elections in Bulgaria on November 6, but a man not even present – Prime Minister Boiko Borissov.
After a brief statement from Radev, who hailed the result as a “vote for change”, the bulk of the questions directed at Kornelia Ninova, leader of the opposition socialist party, which backed the nominee, had focused on the prospect of early parliamentary elections.
Borissov had said previously that he would resign if his party’s candidate, Parliament Speaker Tsetska Tsacheva, failed to win the presidential election. In recent weeks, he has flip-flopped on the issue, however.
Although Ninova tried to stick to the message, thanking everyone who cast a ballot in the elections and the referendum, as well as the socialist party for its strong mobilisation, she was repeatedly asked about early parliamentary elections, including potential future coalitions.
Ninova said that the government’s resignation was the prime minister’s prerogative, but the socialist party would focus over the next week on the presidential run-off. Prodded several times, Ninova would only say that the socialist party was prepared for snap polls, but was not thinking about the issue at this point.
Radev, for his part, said that “[the issue of the] resignation is the prime minister’s decision, he’s a general, he’s a man, it’s his decision”. Radev did acknowledge, however, that the government’s resignation before the run-off would increase “uncertainty and the feeling of chaos”.
Both Ninova and Radev did take shots at GERB, saying that the results of the first round showed a “vote for change”. But there was no open gloating about beating GERB, in sharp contrast to Borissov’s routine recounting, on other election nights, about the number of times his party came ahead of the socialist party.
The two also ruled out any talks with other parties and candidates in the coming weeks, in order to boost support for Radev in the run-off. “To this point, we did not hold talks with political leaders of other parties. We are sticking to this position for the run-off. We will appeal to all Bulgarians who backed other candidates but want change,” Ninova said.
Radev outlined several areas where he would be active if elected – including corruption, government transparency and stemming the flow of migrants into the country – all areas where the presidency has no policy levers to influence.
Asked about how he would accomplish his lofty goals from a largely ceremonial position as president, Radev kept his cool and avoided giving a detailed answer. But he was visibly rattled at the end of the news conference when asked to give an unequivocal answer whether he was in favour of Bulgaria’s continued membership in the European Union and Nato.
Radev resigned as air force chief after the government tabled a bill last year that would allow the task of the country’s air policing to be shared with air forces from other Nato countries. He later withdrew his resignation, only to submit his resignation again in spring, when he was tapped to be the nominee of the socialist party and socialist splinter ABC.
In the summer, he lashed out against the Defence Ministry, saying that Bulgaria paying other Nato countries for the defence of its airspace was even more humiliating than the Treaty of Neuilly” – a reference to the treaty signed in Neuilly-sur-Seine in November 1919 that obliged Bulgaria, defeated along with the Central Powers in the First World War, to cede territories to neighbouring countries, reduce its armed forces and pay millions in reparations.
On election night, when that statement was repeated back at him as the last question of the news conference, Radev grew agitated and, after saying he was in favour of continued membership in Nato, slapped the table and stormed off.
(Photo: Roumen Radev, the BSP candidate in Bulgaria’s 2016 presidential elections.)