SOFIA • Bulgarian voters went to the polls yesterday after a tight election race pitting Socialists seen as closer to Russia against two-time centre-right premier Boyko Borisov, seeking another comeback.
Opinion polls in the European Union's poorest country, where the average monthly salary is just €500 (S$755) and corruption is rife, also indicate a strong showing by nationalists.
The karate-kicking Mr Borisov's enthusiastically pro-EU GERB party and the Socialist Party (BSP), newly led by the energetic Kornelia Ninova, are both seen garnering around 30 per cent.
"I voted for a stable, predictable and united Bulgaria," Mr Borisov said, adding: "Bulgarians must decide today who is fit to lead this kind of politics so let them choose."
Socialist chief Ninova denied that her party's perceived Russian sympathies would have any impact on power.
"No foreign country, eastern or western, should be allowed to influence Bulgarian politics," she said.
In the ex-communist nation's third election in four years, many are turning away from the main parties to groups on the fringes, or are not bothering to vote.
"The big parties are totally disconnected from the reality of what is going on in Bulgaria and that is outright irresponsible," said IT worker Alexander Naydenov, 35.
"That is why I voted for one of the smaller parties with the hope that they can act as a balance to the big ones," he added. Bulgaria, which has long walked a tightrope between East and West, is drifting more towards Moscow.
Ms Ninova has said that she is not content with Bulgaria being a "second-class member" of the European Union (EU) and that she will veto an extension of EU sanctions on Russia.
Russia, with which Bulgaria has long had close cultural and economic ties, has been accused of seeking to expand its influence in other Balkan countries in recent months.