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(DF) Presidential Candidates Radev and Gerdjikov Hold Televised Debate Before Runoffs

November 18 (BTA) – Presidential candidates Rumen Radev and Anastas Gerdjikov are holding a televised public debate before the run-off presidential elections on November 21. The debate, which started at 8 pm local time,was aired by Bulgarian National Television and focuses on important topics, where the presidential institution plays a main role, policies, views and values the candidates uphold. Future Cabinet Both candidates stressed the need for Bulgaria to have a Parliament-elected government. Radev said that the talks on forming a cabinet should be based on policies and not ministerial posts. All parties involved should be ready to make compromises. Gerdjikov said that the four parties – Continue the Change, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, Democratic Bulgaria and There Is Such a People – currently negotiating the future cabinet are following an algorithm he proposed in the past. Radev dismissed allegations that Continue the Change is a “president’s party” and said that the president should not be the architect behind a government coalition but the creator of favourable conditions for the formation of a government. He said he is not involved in political engineering and should he decide to participate in a political project, he would do that with his name. Electoral Support Asked about support from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), Radev said that his election result depends on the Bulgarian citizens’ free will and not on parties’ instructions, and thanked the MRF supporters who voted for him even though MRF’s leadership has long been calling for his resignation. Gerdjikov said that the head of State must be the president of all Bulgarian citizens. He criticized Radev for the strong-arm methods used by caretaker Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov as he goes after election irregularities and said it was outrageous that people were stopped and questioned by police in Sofia University. Radev said that Rashkov’s Ministry acts in response to alerts. Vote buyers are being pressured and some see this as repressions, he said. New Constitution The presidential candidates were asked whether they believe Bulgaria needs a revised or a new Constitution. Gerdjikov said that it is a debatable issue. He made a point of mentioning that Radev had said a few times he had a draft new Constitution ready but never made it public, and urged him to do that. Radev said his draft for constitutional amendments concerns broader civil rights, access to constitutional justice, judicial reforms, but he did not want to submit it to an unstable parliament. Gerdjikov said there is no need for a presidential republic and that while some presidential republics in Europe are functioning successfully, it would be dangerous for a fragile democracy as Bulgaria to have that form of government. He also argued that the judicial reform could be stepped up through law amendments and not necessarily through constitutional changes. Prosecuting Magistracy Asked whether Bulgaria has a systemic or personal problem with the prosecution service, Gerdjikov said that the problem is personalized. A judicial reform that can establish rule of law is what should be sought, he said. According to Radev, the problem is both systemic and personal, and said that it is for a reason people protested against Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev for long days in the summer of 2020. Republic of North Macedonia Asked whether there is a need for a different approach in the relations between Bulgaria and North Macedonia and giving a green light for the start of EU accession talks with Skopje, Gerdjikov said that the only thing the Bulgarian State wants is for the Treaty of Friendship, Goodneighbourliness and Cooperation to be observed, the rights of Bulgarians in North Macedonia to be protected, hate speech to stop, as well as to improve transport connectivity. Obviously, there’s a systemic problem on the other side, he said. Radev said he guarantees that Bulgaria cannot say “yes” while the human rights of Bulgarians in North Macedonia are being violated and while the Bulgarian cultural and historical heritage is being destroyed. COVID-19 Radev said that although the vaccination process in Bulgaria is lagging, this country has seen a huge drop in new cases. He also catalogued improvements in the management of the COVID crisis and health care in general. Gerdjikov said it is an illusion that the situation is improving and slammed the authorities for handling the crisis inadequately. He said that while he is a proponent of vaccines, he considered the green certificate a way to force people to get vaccinated, which he dislikes. Both candidates said they are fully vaccinated. Economy Radev said that inflation is present across the world and Bulgaria is no exception. This inflation is the result of the higher energy prices. Gerdjikov said that measures could have been taken earlier this summer and that businesses have not been adequately compensated for the crisis. All the economic measures were drafted hastily, he argued. Radev reminded Gerdjikov that Parliament was opposed to the budget update. Relations with Russia Radev said that Russia cannot be Bulgaria’s model for development but it cannot be its enemy either. Bulgarians see Russia as their liberator. There are many speculations about Russia and Bulgaria must seek dialogue in this complicated situation. The EU-Russia dialogue is in a bad state, which must be addressed, he said. Gerdjikov said he is surprised how his and Radev’s positions have come closer in the past month. Relations with Russia must be pragmatic. “We have an interest in working with Russia, just like any other country with such a big economy,” he said. Their views about whether Crimea is Ukrainian or Russia differed. Gerdjikov believes it is Ukrainian while Radev said now it is Russian and the sanctions imposed on Russia over Crimea have not produced results. Pragmatic approaches are now being sought. Russia is an important factor for security and the fight against terrorism and we must not forget this, the incumbent President said. US Magnitsky Sanctions Gerdjikov said that the US have interests, which they uphold, while Bulgaria must uphold its own. “The Magnitsky case, the panama papers, are a shame for us. We must establish rule of law, judicial reform and resolve these problems ourselves,” he said. Radev recalled a video conference between the Bucharest Nine and US President Joe Biden, during which he told Eastern European heads of state that their countries’ problems are related to corruption. Radev said he welcomes the US’s decision to apply the Magnitsky Act to Bulgarian citizens, adding that this was a decisive act of support for the Bulgarian democracy and a call for the EU to finally start looking at these problems seriously. Migration Commenting the migrant crisis, Gerdjikov said there is a difference between migrants and refugees. “We cannot deny entry to refugees, but there are also the migrants, who are often the victims of human trafficking,” he said. Radev noted that Bulgaria is a front-line country and the risk is very high for it. Front-line countries must be helped, recalling that Bulgaria is spending its own money on guarding the EU border. “We must help people fleeing wars,” he said. Both candidates are running as independents. Radev and his running mate Iliana Iotova are backed by the Socialists, Continue the Change, the Green Movement in the Democratic Bulgaria coalition and Rise Up BG! Here We Come!. Anastas Gerdjikov and his running mate Nevyana Miteva are backed by GERB-UDF. MY/LN/