SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — These are the main issues and candidates in Sunday's presidential elections in Bulgaria:
WHAT IS HAPPENING
Some 6.8 million Bulgarians are eligible to choose their new president who will replace incumbent Rosen Plevneliev after his five-year term ends in January. The election campaign focused mainly on the future of the European Union, relations with Russia and the threats from a possible rise in migrant inflows from neighboring Turkey
For the first time, voting in the presidential elections will be compulsory.
Bulgaria's presidency is primarily a ceremonial position. Although the head of state has no executive powers, and all major policies must be approved by Parliament, the popular election gives the post more influence and authority. The president leads the armed forces and can veto legislation and sign international treaties, and appoints ambassadors and the heads of the intelligence and security services.
Also on the ballot is a referendum in which voters are asked to decide on issues including the introduction of compulsory voting, the introduction of a majority electoral system and sharply cutting the state subsidy paid to political parties and coalitions from 11 lev ($6.25) to 1 lev ($0.57) for each valid vote they win in elections.
The referendum was has been initiated by a popular TV host.
WHO IS RUNNING
Political analysts expect that none of the 21 presidential candidates is likely to win Sunday's election by getting more than the required 50 percent of the vote, and that a runoff will be held on Nov. 13.
Front-runner is the speaker of Parliament Tsetska Tsacheva, a 58-year-old lawyer and member of the governing GERB party of Prime Minister Boiko Borisov. If elected she will be the first-ever female president in Bulgaria.
Unlike her party leader, however, she is not considered a very charismatic figure and some analysts consider her a weak candidate who is too dependent on Borisov.
Gen. Rumen Radev, 53, a former non-partisan chief of Bulgarian Air Force, is backed by the opposition Socialist Party and expected to finish second.
Krasimir Karakachanov, 51, who is backed by three major nationalist formations, ranked third in the latest poll on the wave of widespread concern among Bulgarians over the influx of refugees.
WHY IT MATTERS
The new president is expected to be able to deal with a possible rise in migrant inflows from neighboring Turkey and growing tensions between Russia and the West.
The Balkan country joined NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2007 and there is a general consensus among the parties in Parliament on the Euro-Atlantic orientation of the country.
If elected, Tsacheva is expected to continue Plevneliev's policy.
Her main opponent, Radev, has repeatedly said he would comply with Bulgaria's European obligations but has called for better relations with Russia and called for lifting sanctions.
In pre-election debates Radev countered rivals' accusations of being "pro-Russian" by reaffirming his loyalty to the Euro-Atlantic axis, adding however that "being pro-European does not mean being anti-Russian."
A recent poll suggests the presidential election will go to a second round, with Tsacheva up against Radev.
The poll conducted Oct. 24-31 by Gallup International Balkan among 820 Bulgarians found Tsacheva supported by 27.2 percent, Radev by 23.1 percent and Karakachanov by 11.5 percent. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
According to Gallup International, a Radev victory in the runoff cannot be ruled out. That could mean serious trouble for Borisov and his GERB party and many analysts speak of possible early general elections next spring that could shake up Bulgaria's political scene.