The ruling center-right party's candidate has a comfortable lead in Bulgaria's presidential race before next weekend's run-off, suggesting voter support for painful economic reforms.
The Central Election Commission said Monday the GERB party's Rosen Plevneliev had 39.73 percent of Sunday's vote with 78.71 percent of the ballots counted. In the Oct. 30 run-off, he will face Ivailo Kalfin, of the opposition Socialist Party, who had 29.44 percent.
Plevneliev, the former construction minister, has pledged to support Prime Minister Boiko Borisov's drive to reduce the impoverished country's budget deficit and pursue business-friendly policies.
Besides the vote for a new president, heated mayoral battles took place in many of the country's 264 municipalities.
In the capital, Sofia, GERB won the race and incumbent mayor Yordanka Fandakova will serve a second term. In most other municipalities, a second round of voting will be held next Sunday.
In a statement issued Monday, international vote monitors made an overall positive assessment of the elections, but said continued reform was needed to address concerns such as pervasive allegations of vote-buying and the near absence of any editorial coverage of the campaign in the media.
"Persistent and widespread allegations of vote-buying undermined confidence in the election process, despite the authorities' efforts to combat such practices," the monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said.