Bulgaria's GERB puts up popular minister for president

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Sun, 4 Sep 2011 14:53 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Construction minister to run for president

* Ruling party nominee popular but likely to face runoff-analysts

SOFIA, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Bulgaria's ruling GERB party on Sunday nominated its popular construction minister as its candidate for president in a contest that is expected to indicate the level of support for the centre-right government ahead of general elections in 2013.

Minister Rosen Plevneliev, applauded for overseeing the speedy building of highways, is a front-runner for the ceremonial post on Oct. 23 but is also likely to face stiff competition and a run-off is likely, analysts say.

Local elections will be held on the same day.

GERB is still the most popular political faction but support for the party has eroded since it came to office in 2009.

Bulgaria's opposition says the government has not done enough to revive the flagging economy, boost living standards and combat rampant corruption and organised crime.

Opinion polls rank Plevneliev, 47, a soft-spoken engineer, as the second most popular public figure in the Balkan country after the country's EU Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva.

Under Plevneliev's leadership, the government has managed to open a long-delayed 19-km highway around the capital and stepped up work on new motorways linking Sofia with the Black Sea port of Burgas and neighbouring Turkey.

It has pledged that the isolated Balkan country will have seven operational highways by 2020 to help attract much needed foreign investment.

But spending cuts, along with rising unemployment and food and fuel prices, have angered many in the European Union's poorest country, where the average monthly salary stands at 300 euros (${esc.dollar}430) and living standards are among the lowest in the bloc.

More than a dozen candidates are running for president and with the winner needing a majority vote, a run-off is expected.

The most likely contenders are Socialist candidate Ivailo Kalfin, a former foreign minister, or independent Meglena Kuneva, a former EU commissioner.

Current President Georgi Parvanov, former leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, served two 5-year terms and is not eligible to run again.

Plevneliev and the party's nominee for vice president, Justice Minister Margarita Popova, are expected to be replaced at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. (Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)