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Bulgaria sets early vote for March 26, ex-parliament speaker to be interim PM

By Tsvetelia Tsolova

By Tsvetelia Tsolova

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria's president on Tuesday called an early national election for March 26 and appointed former parliament speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov as caretaker prime minister until then.

Gerdzhikov, 70, currently a professor of law and head of an arbitration court, served as speaker of parliament in a centrist government from 2001 to 2005.

Kiril Ananiev, 61, currently a deputy finance minister in charge of budgets, will take over as finance minister, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. Ananiev is seen as a safe pair of hands, having served as deputy finance minister in five different governments.

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The appointments show that President Rumen Radev, who took office this month after winning an election with the backing of the opposition Socialists, is seeking continuity and balance, analysts said.

Radev had to call an early election after Bulgaria's centre-right government resigned late last year following the defeat of its candidate in the presidential election. Radev will dissolve the parliament on Friday.

"The head of state sets March 26 as the date for the general election. With another decree, the president appoints Ognyan Gerdzhikov as interim prime minister," the president's office said in a statement. Russia-friendly Radev is also expected to appoint diplomat Radi Naidenov, currently Bulgaria's ambassador to Germany, as interim foreign minister as he seeks to reaffirm Sofia's commitment to its allies in the European Union and NATO.

SEEKING BALANCE

The main task of Gerdzhikov's interim government will be to ensure that the Balkan country holds a fair election and maintains fiscal stability to protect the Bulgarian currency's peg against the euro.

"Radev won his post with the support of the Socialists, but the interim government does not look like a Socialist one," said Parvan Simeonov, an analyst at Sofia-based Gallup International.

"We see a centrist line and with the finance minister - a continuity of policies. Radev wants balance and this is what the interim government shows," he said.

The previous centre-right government of Boiko Borisov secured economic growth and cut unemployment to an eight-year low while cutting the fiscal deficit, but its failure to tackle endemic graft in the EU's poorest country has frustrated voters.

Political analysts say the parliamentary election, Bulgaria's third since 2013, is again unlikely to produce a strong majority government able to implement the judicial, economic and other reforms the country needs.

Borisov's GERB party has a narrow lead over its main Socialist rival, latest opinion polls show.

"None of the parties is expected to win an outright majority, which will result in a fragmented parliament and another fragile coalition government," Teneo Intelligence analyst Andrius Tursa said in a note.

(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Gareth Jones)