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Exit polls: Bulgaria's Socialists lose ground in municipal elections

2007-10-28 19:17:53 -

Bulgaria (AP) - Bulgaria's center-right opposition appeared headed for nationwide gains _ and outright wins in the country's two largest cities _ in municipal elections Sunday, according to exit polls.
The vote is seen as a midterm test for the Socialist-led government amid labor unrest, which has grown since the country joined the European Union this year.

In the capital, Boiko Borisov easily retained the Sofia mayorship he has held since winning the interim elections in 2005, according to first exit poll results.

Borisov, who heads the center-right GERB party, appeared headed for comfortable re-election with a projected 53 percent of the vote compared with conservative candidate Martin Zaimov's 20 percent. Socialist candidate Brigo Asparuhov was third with 13 percent, the Sova Harris polling agency said. No margin of error was given.

In Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second-largest city, GERB candidate Slavcho Atanasov looked set to defeat Socialist Zahari Georgiev, winning 54 percent of the vote, the exit poll said.

Sunday's vote came amid a nationwide teachers' strike that has closed most schools for more than a month and eroded support for the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the largest bloc in the three-party government coalition.
Teachers are demanding 100 percent salary hikes and higher state funding for education.
Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev insists that giving in to the teachers would fuel inflation, which was 13.1 percent on the year in September, the EU's highest.

Despite securing EU membership, the government has been widely blamed for failing to improve the quality of everyday life in the Balkan country of 7.7 million, the poorest member of the European Union.
Before the vote, analysts predicted that a big loss for the government could trigger calls for early parliamentary elections, which are officially two years away.

Borisov's GERB party was formed last December and narrowly won elections held here in May. That result was seen as a signal of voter displeasure with low living standards and the government's inability to curb rampant crime and corruption.

Only 35 percent of the 6.9 million eligible voters cast ballots Sunday for the 12,000 mayoral candidates and for the 40,000 running for other posts, the central election commission announced.
Mayoral candidates must win more than 50 percent for an outright win or face rivals in a Nov. 4 run-off election.

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