Bulgaria’s president has comfortably won the first round of voting but the turn-out was so low he must face a run-off.
Standing against Georgi Parvanov in the presidential poll will be the ultra-nationalist Volen Siderov who has fought against Bulgarian entry into the European Union.
Bulgaria had prided itself on not falling victim to rampant nationalism after the fall of communism and on remaining relatively stable, but Siderov has tapped into the disappointment many feel with Sofia’s failure to end poverty and tackle corruption.
In some places, turn-out was below 25 per cent.
In the Black Sea port of Varna, one voter said: “These results were expected, there wasn’t much choice. The only alternative was Georgi Parvanov.”
Another added: “I think people don’t want to vote, they’re not interested in the politicians who are in power.”
“It was clear that when the right-wing failed completely and no others ran, Parvanov would win,” said a third.
The former head of the ruling Socialists, Parvanov took nearly two thirds of the votes cast and is expected to win easily in the run-off on Sunday.
The Balkan state is recovering from its economic meltdown in the 1990s but purchasing power is still lower than before the fall of communism in 1989.
Siderov’s 21 per cent will have alarmed the mainstream parties.
The leader of the xenophobic Attack group campaigned against Bulgaria’s large ethnic Turkish and Roma gypsy minorities.