Bulgaria: Royal Flush

Bulgarian men rushing to get the newspaper on election night (Photo: AFP).

The National Movement Simeon II (NMSII), formed just two months before the June 17 general elections by Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Bulgaria’s charismatic former monarch, won a landslide victory, gaining 43 percent of the vote. The showing by this unusual alliance was better than the combined vote for both the ruling rightist United Democratic Forces (UDF) and the Socialist Party-led leftist coalition. NMSII, one seat short of an outright majority in parliament, found a coalition partner in the ethnic Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms.

The overwhelming rejection at the ballot box of both reformists and former communists was predicted by all polling agencies. “On June 17 voters at last said ‘no’ to the vicious swing of the political pendulum: from left to right and vice versa, from one quasi-socialist clique to another quasi-democratic one,” observed analyst Nickolay Slatinski in the left-leaning Monitor (June 25). He added: “It was a severe, punishing blow against an arrogant, selfish, shortsighted elite that viewed domestic policy as a tool for personal prosperity and the plundering of the national wealth.…”

“The UDF’s achievements (pro-European Union and NATO orientation, visa-free travel, monetary stabilization, crime reduction, etc.) cannot be denied,” sociologist Andrey Raichev countered in the independent 24 Tchasa (June 20). He argued that prime minister and UDF party leader Ivan Kostov “hermetically sealed his grip on power, ruling through fear and domination instead of balance. UDF spawned two separate realities. There was the unofficial one, where ...unemployment in some regions soared to a heart-rending 80-90 percent. Then there was the official reality, where the authorities played a doctor who treats a cancer victim by singing cheerful songs.”

Bulgarians were not hurt so much by the pain of reforms as by the fact that the burden was not shared by all. A high-ranking official overseeing privatization was nicknamed “Mr. Ten Percent,” the usual commission he allegedly requested from would-be buyers. “Bulgaria lost US$2.2 billion from cronies’ deals,” economist Spartak Keremedchiev told the privately owned, pro-NMSII Standart News (June 20).

“The secret of the former king’s electoral triumph was that besides bread, he promised a moral purge….And if he sticks to his word, soon we may see politicians as well as bandits behind bars,” noted commentator Stefan Prodev in the liberal Sega (June 21). Simeon II, who says that restoration of monarchy is not on his agenda, has pledged to pursue European integration and to raise living standards in 800 days. His young advisers, well placed in Western financial institutions, contemplate boosting business activity through tax cuts and zero-interest credits. Some economists believe the program is excessively populist, but others, like Charles Robertson of ING Barings, are optimistic. The danger is that the former rulers “may embark on the road of Sali Berisha in Albania—sabotaging the new power by all means possible,” warned Kyril Drezov, a lecturer at England’s Keele University, in a BBC interview (June 29) cited by all Bulgarian media.

December 2001 (VOL. 48, No. 12)Overline Overline Overline OverlineHeadline Headline Headline HeadlineName
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