Europe

Bulgarian Presidential Elections

Out with the Old, In with the Old

Sofia, Nov. 1, 2001: A protestor armed with a loaf of bread at a protest rally against poverty and the state of the nation organized by Bulgarian trade unions to mark the first 100 days of the new Bulgarian government, led by Simeon Kobourg Gotha. Some 10,000 people gathered for the rally (Photo: AFP/Mladen Antonov).
Sofia, Nov. 1, 2001: A protestor armed with a loaf of bread at a protest rally against poverty and the state of the nation organized by Bulgarian trade unions to mark the first 100 days of the new Bulgarian government, led by Simeon Kobourg Gotha. Some 10,000 people gathered for the rally (Photo: AFP/Mladen Antonov).

In an upset in presidential elections in November, Bulgarian voters, impatient with corruption and deteriorating living standards, turned out their incumbent President Peter Stoyanov. Stoyanov, backed by the conservative Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), was defeated by Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) leader Georgi Purvanov, a former communist. Voter turnout was the poorest since 1990: Just 41 percent bothered to go to the ballot box.

And while sociologists were baffled by the surprise outcome, for most media Stoyanov’s fiasco was forewarned. “The vote on Nov. 18 was not contested by the BSP and UDF; the poor voted against the rich,” observed Standart News (Nov. 20). “In fact the commander [ex-prime minister and UDF leader Ivan Kostov] predetermined the election result, in both rounds, by everything he did and did not do from 1997 on. Poverty, notorious Managers & Employees Associations, shady privatization deals that left thousands jobless...—all this weighed like a millstone on Stoyanov.”

On the other hand, Purvanov, according to Standart News (Nov. 19), is “quiet, kind, and patient...able to compromise....He can really boast two deeds: giving back the mandate to form a second socialist-led government on Feb.4, 1997 [amid hyperinflation and nationwide protests]. And he was the only MP of the BSP who remained in the plenary hall to pay respects to the victims of communism together with his right-wing colleagues.”

Local and foreign observers delighted in the paradox: A president who is a former communist will have to cohabit with the former king Simeon II Saxe Coburg-Gotha, who was elected prime minister in June.

Simeon II was exiled as a child by the selfsame communists. And although moderate socialist Purvanov has pledged allegiance to the course of European Union and NATO integration, revisionist figures inside his party may provoke social tensions that can sabotage the ruling National Movement Simeon II (NMSII) agenda, analysts say. Planned price hikes of electricity, fuel, cigarettes, and medicines, plus the higher taxes on homes and autos, may prove too heavy a burden for most Bulgarians, reflected Sega (Nov. 12).

But is time actually working against the new prime minister? “It is clear that the wheel of history is turning back for Simeon—in the sense that the current situation may help recast him in his original role as king of Bulgaria,” speculated analyst Georgi Daskalov, writing in 24 Tchasa (Nov. 19). “For more than half of Bulgarians, the presidential institution is nonsensical. And Simeon is cunning enough to take advantage of this,” concludes Daskalov.

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