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Stoyanov Favored to Win Bulgaria's Presidential Election - 2001-11-11

Voters in Bulgaria are heading to the polls Sunday to choose a President, who is expected to move the small former Communist Balkan nation into the European Union. Opinion polls show the incumbent head of state Petar Stoyanov may miss a first round re-election win.

Efforts by Bulgaria's President Petar Stoyanov to win another five-year term in office have been supported by former King Simeon II, who is now Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg. The former monarch told reporters in Budapest this week that Bulgaria should remain a republic.

In addition the former ruling United Democratic Forces Party, which lost power in June, also supports Mr. Stoyanov's re-election bid.

But despite the political backing and his relative popularity, opinion polls are divided on whether Mr. Stoyanov will receive an outright majority to avoid a second round on November 18.

Under Bulgaria's election law the only way to avoid a run off ballot is when a candidate receives more than half the valid votes, and turn out at the elections stand at more than 50 percent.

Six candidates, including one woman, are fighting for the top job. However polls show that the Presidents' main challengers are former Socialist leader Georgi Parvanov and ex-Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev, who are running a close race.

The winner of Sunday's ballot is expected to help Bulgaria and its eight million people to join the European Union by 2007. Bulgaria is among seven "second wave" candidates for EU membership, but the former Communist Balkan nation has still to meet several requirements.

Two conditions include the early closure of obsolete reactors at the controversial Kozloduy nuclear plant and meeting a set of economic targets.

As well as free market reforms, there have been efforts to clear the last reminders of Bulgaria's communist past. Land mines and barbed wire fencing along the border with the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia have been torn down.

And in 1999 it took workers in Sofia almost a week of round-the-clock hard labor, to demolish the white marble mausoleum of the country's first communist leader, Georgi Dimitrov.