SOFIA Bulgarian presidential candidate Tsetska Tsacheva kicked off her campaign on Sunday with the support of the ruling GERB party, as the Balkan state faces growing tension between Russia and the West and Europe's biggest migrant crisis since World War Two.
The vote will indicate the level of support for the government of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov ahead of general elections in 2018. Borisov has repeatedly said his cabinet would resign if the 58-year-old parliament speaker Tsacheva loses the first-round vote on Nov 6.
Tsacheva, a former member of the Communist party, appears likely to face a two-way runoff vote for the largely ceremonial post, however, against the Socialist party BSP's candidate Rumen Radev.
A survey by pollster Market Links showed that of those who plan to vote in the first round, 19.8 percent support Tsacheva and 14.9 percent back Radev, a former air force commander who has said he would work to lift EU sanctions on Russia and increase funds for the army.
Twenty-three percent of respondents to the survey said they were undecided, and 15 percent said they planned not to vote.
Tsacheva, the first female speaker in parliament and a former legal adviser and lawyer, is bidding to become Bulgaria’s first female president.
"Bulgaria needs stability, national unity and the rule of law," Tsacheva told 15,000 GERB supporters at an event to launch her campaign at the Armeets Arena in Sofia.
Borisov said he was confident that GERB would achieve its 11th consecutive win in presidential, parliamentary, European and local elections in the last decade.
"I must say that I am optimistic because the more I listen I understand that we made the right choice," Borisov said.
Two years after coming to office, GERB is still the most popular political faction in the EU and NATO member country, praised for stabilizing the economy and ensuring steady inflows of EU aid, recent opinion polls showed.
But pollsters have also registered increased activity among leftist voters frustrated with the slowing pace of improvements in living standards in the EU's poorest country and with rampant corruption.
For the first time, voters will also have the option of ticking a box labelled "I do not support anyone".
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov)