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Conservative declares election win

The ruling conservative party's candidate declared victory in Bulgaria's presidential run-off election after exit polls showed he won convincingly.

Rosen Plevneliev's win means the ruling GERB party now controls all the major posts in Bulgaria, which will bolster its push for painful economic reforms in the struggling country, where the average monthly salary is £301 and unemployment is 11.7%.

An exit poll conducted by the Alpha Research agency gave Mr Plevneliev 54.8% of the votes, while indicating 45.2% of voters cast ballots for Socialist challenger Ivailo Kalfin. Two other exit polls showed a similar margin. The Central Election Commission estimated turnout at 42%.

With official results still due, Mr Kalfin conceded defeat after the exit polling, saying: "The result is clear - we did not win the elections."

Although most of the power in corruption-plagued Bulgaria, a Balkan country of 7.4 million, rests with the prime minister and parliament, the president leads the armed forces and can veto legislation and sign international treaties.

Mr Plevneliev, 47, is a former entrepreneur who has been lauded for pushing through several large-scale infrastructure projects as regional development minister in the incumbent cabinet. He has pledged to reduce the budget deficit and pursue business-friendly policies.

He also said he would do his best to unite Bulgarians in pursuit of reforms in the judicial and health care systems, while also diversifying energy supplies and improving trade. "Bulgaria's European future means that the president should guarantee equal chances for the development of all regions in the country," he said on Sunday.

Prime minister Boiko Borisov, meanwhile, said that by electing Mr Plevneliev "Bulgarians supported Bulgaria's stability and its European development".

The winner of the contest replaces Georgi Parvanov, a former leader of the Socialist Party who has often criticised the government and used his powers to veto legislation or key judicial office or diplomatic service appointments. Mr Parvanov has served two five-year terms, the legal limit.

If final results confirm Mr Plevneliev as the winner, he would take office on January 23.

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