Support for Bulgaria's ruling party high ahead of referendum

SOFIA Mon Jan 21, 2013 5:29am EST

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SOFIA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Boiko Borisov's GERB party remains the most popular in Bulgaria despite a U-turn on the Belene nuclear power project, subject of a vote this Sunday, an opinion poll indicated on Monday.

The referendum on whether to push ahead with Belene is Bulgaria's first since the fall of communism, and a test of government support before a parliamentary election in July.

Borisov's party scrapped the project last March, saying Bulgaria could not afford the 10 billion euro ($13.3 billion) cost, but incurring the threat of a penalty from the Russian constructor. The opposition Socialists then called a referendum on Belene, which Borisov backed before calling for a 'No' vote last month.

Support for the centre-right GERB edged up a point to 23.8 percent in January, but the opposition Socialists also rose one point, to 19.7 percent, according to a Gallup International poll of 1,017 people carried out between January 4 and 10.

"Borisov can congratulate himself. Even after reversing his position he is maintaining support for his party," said Andrey Raichev, a political analyst with Gallup. "But the vote could hurt his image as a winner," he said.

Opinion polls have suggested that two-thirds of those who vote will back the building of a new plant at Belene on the Danube.

Bulgaria's economic crisis has eaten away at GERB's popularity since it won power in July 2009 with nearly 40 percent of the vote, promising to tackle a deep recession, organised crime and graft.

(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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