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Bulgaria's ruling party backs parliament speaker for presidential bid

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria’s ruling GERB party nominated on Sunday parliament speaker Tsetska Tsacheva to run for president as the Balkan country steers deals with a migrant crisis and growing tensions between Russia and the West.

The vote on Nov. 6 for the largely ceremonial post will also indicate the level of support for the centre-right government ahead of general elections in 2018.

Tsacheva, 58, the first female speaker and a former legal adviser and lawyer, is seen as a front-runner for post but is also set to face stiff competition and a run-off is likely, analysts say.

“I have heard enough about fathers of the nation. It is high time to have a mother and take indeed a motherly care for the people,” Prime Minister and GERB’s leader Boiko Borisov said upon endorsing Tsacheva.

Two years after coming to office, GERB is still the most popular political faction in the EU and NATO member country, praised for stabilizing the economy and ensuring steady inflows of EU aid, recent opinion polls showed.

But pollsters also register increased activity among leftist voters, frustrated with slower pace of increasing the living standards in the EU’s poorest country and rampant corruption.

The new president, who will take office in January, will have to address a rising anxiety among Bulgarians in the wake of Islamist militant attacks in Europe and a possible increase of refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East.

Bulgarians are also concerned with the impact the EU sanctions on Russia and Britain’s vote to exit the European Union would have on the small and open economy.

“I am loaded with political energy for stability and security,” Tsacheva said.

In a bid to address risks from military and political conflicts near Bulgaria, GERB party endorsed a former navy commander, Plamen Manushev for vice-president.

More than a dozen candidates are running for president and with the winner needing a majority vote, a run-off is expected.

The most likely contenders are Socialist candidate Rumen Radev, a former air force commander, the centre-left’s Ivailo Kalfin, a former labour and foreign minister, as well as Tatiana Doncheva, leader of a left-wing faction.

Radev has said he would work to lift the EU sanctions on Russia, increase the funds for the Bulgarian army, help better protect the Balkan country’s borders and support reforms in education and healthcare.

Current reformist president Rosen Plevneliev, who won on a GERB’s ticket in 2011, has said he would not run in the race.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Toby Chopra