Incumbent Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov conceded defeat in Sunday's second and final round of the country's presidential elections.
Although official results are not expected until late Monday or Tuesday, his Socialist challenger, Georgi Parvanov, has already declared victory. Mr. Parvanov promised to lead Bulgaria into the European Union and NATO.
President Petar Stoyanov conceded defeat in his bid for re-election shortly after several polling agencies and a non-governmental organization released preliminary exit poll figures showing the incumbent had lost Sunday's elections. According to exit polls, Parvanov won over 53 percent of the vote, compared with 47 percent for the incumbent. The turnout was light, with only about half of the eligible voters casting their ballot.
Political apathy among voters and widespread anger over poverty and corruption are seen by political analysts as the reasons for Mr. Stoyanov's defeat.
Mr. Parvanov, a 44-year-old ex-Communist-turned-Socialist, acknowledged that sentiment in his victory speech, saying the results reflect the "people's desire for profound change." He said he will work with the government of prime minister and former king Simeon Saxe-Coburg, and pursue Bulgaria's aims of joining NATO and the European Union.
But Prime Minister Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, who had openly opposed Mr. Parvanov, told VOA News Bulgaria has a long way to go before joining the European Union. "The challenge," he said, "is to show we are determined to join the European Union. We have opened 23 of the 29 chapters [of negotiations]. We hope to open the remaining [chapters] by the end of this year. We have closed 12, and one of them is freedom of capital movement which is pretty important, I think. So we are on the way of realizing these things. But it will take a lot of efforts and a lot of hard work."
Bulgaria hopes to join the EU by 2007 and expects to receive an invitation for NATO membership during the Atlantic Alliance's summit next year.
Analysts say incoming President Parvanov has succeeded in striking a balance between reforming his Socialists into a modern social democratic party while keeping older Communists satisfied.
As president, Mr. Parvanov will have limited constitutional powers, but he performs a significant symbolic function of representing Bulgaria abroad. Because of his Communist background, he will be watched closely, especially by Bulgaria's future partners in the European Union.