Bulgaria: Fears Over Presidential Race

A Purvanov victory in the presidential elections could spark a new political crisis.

Bulgaria: Fears Over Presidential Race

A Purvanov victory in the presidential elections could spark a new political crisis.

Bulgaria may be on the brink of yet more politcial chaos. On November 11, the electorate voted for the leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP, Georgi Purvanov, and his sidekick, General Angel Marin, in the first round of the third presidential election since the fall of communism in 1989.

Were the BSP candidates to triumph in the presidential run off, the country would be faced with a curious - if not unworkable - leadership combination: co-rule between a former monarch premier, Simeon II, and a former communist.

As reported in Germany's Tageszeitung, it would essentially place Bulgaria into a "state of unmanageability", which may derail its declared course of seeking economic and political stability, and membership of both the EU and NATO.

A presidential run off is now scheduled for November 18 with the three leading contenders set to battle it out. The majority of analysts are predicting that current president Petar Stoyanov will win a second term in office. However, if the voters fail to turn out, Stoyanov may well be packing his bags.

With a record low turn out of roughly 40 per cent of the electorate in the first round, this is a distinct possibility.

Contrary to published opinion polls which favour a victory for Stoyanov, Purvanov led the field with 36 per cent of the vote after the first round of the poll.

Stoyanov secured under 35 per cent while General Bogomil Bonev, a former interior minister, won roughly 20 per cent.

Stoyanov, whose Union of Democratic Forces,UDF, respresents Bulgaria's main anti-communist force, was elected president in 1996. The UDF governed the country between 1997-2001 when the Simeon II National Movement, SNM, emerged to remove it from power.

In this presidential contest, both the SNM and the UDF supported Stoyanov who ran as an independent candidate. Political observers were quick to blame the dwindling popularity of Simeon II for Stoyanov's first round defeat.

The failure of the former monarch to fulfil at least some of the generous pledges the former king produced during his own election campaign has made many Bulgarians wary of both him and politics as such. These people stayed away from the polls, according to Stoyana Georgieva, a Sofia-based journalist.

But other analysts have different explanations. They suggest that Bulgarians who continue to support Simeon II were confused by his ambiguous backing for Stoyanov.

Originally, the former monarch held a grudge against Stoyanov, who earlier in 2001 used his blocking quota in the constitutional court to prevent the former monarch from running for president.

Simeon was infuriated and returned to Bulgaria from exile in Spain to found the SNM, which won the general election in June.

In October, Simeon put this episode behind him and stated his support for Stoyanov, but many of his deputies objected: they wanted an entirely new candidate put forward by the SNM alone.

The overall impression of Simeon's backing for the incumbent president was thus rendered rather half-hearted.

The Bulgarian general public is inclined to seek hidden meanings behind such developments. By voting against Stoyanov, the Bulgarians may now be putting what they consider to be the final nail in the coffin of the UDF, which although scoring massive international successes has gone to the dogs at home as a result of the widespread allegations of corruption.

Luckily, Stoyanov has managed to remain relatively unscathed from the allegations plaguing the UDF.

Unlike Stoyanov, Purvanov is at best, tepid on the issue of NATO membership. And he suffers from the fact that his BSP has yet to sever all links - ideological and political - with its forerunner, the Bulgarian Communist Party.

It has failed to gain recognition from international left-wing bodies and, as a result, lacks legitimacy. Its main supporters in the country include the growing army of impoverished pensioners and some nouveaux riches, whose wealth stems from the turbulent early transition years.

General Bogomil Bonev, another independent candidate, propounds a "strong presidency", but it remains to be seen how this will fit into the Bulgarian political set-up, where the president is, by statute, little more than a figurehead.

Bonev, however, managed to cash in on some right-wing votes on November 11, appealing to what analysts call Bulgarians' increasing disenchantment with traditional politics and growing desire for a strongman to put the country right.

Although the majority of Bulgarian analysts are still convinced Stoyanov will secure victory in the presidential run off on November 18, there may yet be a few surprises, particularly if the electorate's disillusionment with corruption and unfulfilled promises prompts them to boycott the next round of the contest.

Anthony Georgieff is an independent Sofia-based journalist

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