Ambitious, maverick Bulgarian mayor re-elected

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SOFIA, Oct 29 (Reuters) Sofia's maverick mayor, Boiko Borisov, was re-elected in local elections, which helped affirm his new rightist group as a leading Bulgarian party, nearly final results showed today.

Borisov, formerly a bodyguard for ex-king Simeon Saxe-Coburg and late Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, has ambitions to become the Balkan country's next prime minister, some political commentators say.

His opposition GERB party, set up last year, has enjoyed a sharp rise in popularity in recent months and has an opinion poll lead over the ruling Socialists, whose support is falling as Bulgaria remains the poorest European Union nation.

The local poll came as the Socialist-led coalition government is under pressure from racing inflation and a five-week teachers strike which paralysed the country's schools.

Preliminary results showed the Socialists had kept and even increased the number of seats they held in municipal councils, despite increasing disappointment over low living standards and lack of progress in fighting rampant corruption.

The three-party ruling coalition, whose mandate expires in 2009, said they were content with the results and ruled out any possibility of early elections.

Borisov was re-elected as mayor with 53.3 per cent of the vote, against 17.8 per cent for the candidate of a coalition of right-wing opposition parties and 15.5 per cent for the Socialist contender, with 97 per cent of ballots counted.

GERB also won the highest number of seats in the municipal councils in Sofia and Bulgaria's second biggest city of Plovdiv.

''From just a media phenomena based on the charisma of its leader, GERB has now become a national political party,'' said political analyst Andrei Raichev at Gallup.

''It is very likely we'll see GERB ruling Bulgaria in a coalition with others after the next general election,'' he said.

Support for GERB reflects the popularity of its leader Borisov, who won Bulgarians over with his down-to-earth language and anti-crime campaign as interior ministry secretary in the previous government of ex-king Simeon.

Final results from the Balkan country's 264 counties are expected by tomorrow night. Run-offs are due on November. 4.

REUTERS SKB RK1705

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