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More than you wanted to know about the 25 June Bulgarian elections

by gradinski chai Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 08:01:38 AM EST

Promoted from the diaries by Colman

The sounds of various election concerts and some very loud fireworks shook Sofia and other Bulgarian cities last night as we all prepared for Bulgarian elections tommorow, 25 June.

Mildly curious? Just have some time to spare? Planning a vacation? Here's a rundown on what is likely to happen...

Bulgaria uses a party list proportional representation system with a 4% threshold. (For those not familiar with PR systems, this means that a party must get more than 4% of the total vote in order to enter parliament.)

With this in mind, it looks like a cliffhanger with turnout really going to be a key factor.

After tiring of reforms that have left many rural areas and parts of cities in dire straits, voters are likely to penalize the ruling centerish National Movement for Simeon II. Simeon II, who was a child king of Bulgaria before being forced into exile by the communists, returned in 2001 to become the only monarch that has been put into political office by a free election.

The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) is likely to take the largest block of voters (some 35%). They have been strongly behind the Bulgarian troop withdrawal that has already been voted in parliament. Under a 30-something year old leader, the BSP has been trying to modernize and finally adjust to the European family of Socialist Parties (PES).

The National Movement for Simeon II will likely take 15-17% of the vote.

The Union of Democratic Forces (the bulk of what remains of the original anti-communist coalition) will likely take 8-11% of the vote. Two other right splinter formations are seen as taking another 7-10% of the vote. So it's possible that one or both won't pass the threshold.

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms, a center-left party dominated by Bulgaria's Turkish minority, should take its traditional 7-8% of the vote. While Turkish-Bulgarian relations are quite good in the country, there is much dislike among Bulgarians for the MRF's leader, Ahmed Dogan.

Unfortunately, the scary right has its first opportunity to enter parliament through a tv personality on a minor cable channel. The political formation "Attack" (yes, you read that correctly) brings an anti-Roma and a stronger nationalist message to Bulgarian politics. Bulgaria, singularly in the Balkans, has escaped ethnic troubles due to a combination of Bulgarians' notable tolerance, good leadership on the right, the Communist's campaigns to change the names of Bulgarian Turks in the 1980s, and the presence of the Turkish party in parliament. Until this time, we've had the traditional and free market right in several parties (Union of Democratic Forces, Bulgarian National Union, and others), but no scary right.

The curious thing to outsiders, but not those who know the past of the Bulgarian Communist Party (now the mostly reformed BSP), is that pollsters are saying that part of the BSP's supposedly "left" electorate is moving to support "Attack." This is in part a response to the Bulgarian Socialist Party's announcement that it would be very comfortable seeking a coaltion with the Turkish MRF.

Unlikely to pass the threshold will be Euroroma, a leftish party supported by a portion of the Roma population (some 6%). Euroroma has decided to take the celebrity route to parliament by putting up several pop folk singers and a former Playboy model as candidates. Some of us in the center and left would like to see them pass threshold if only to have Asis, a openly bisexual and very flamboyant singer, walk into parliament wearing something typical for him...maybe something like a bright red jumpsuit studded with sequins...exotic eye makeup...and a feather boa.

For even more info, you can check out English language news on the subject at Novinite. (WARNING: Some translations are sometimes curiously phrased such as the habit to use "ladies" most of the time.)

Thank you. I now know about a million times more about Bulgaria than I did a minute ago. And what little I did know I learnt from reading an investment proposal a few days ago.

What sort of coalition would you expect to come out of the elections?

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 01:06:34 AM EST
There are two possibilities:

  1. BSP/MRF/NDSV (Socialists, Turkish party, Simeon's party) This even though different signals about joining such a coalition are coming out of Simeon's party.

  2. Everyone but BSP. In this case the Turkish MRF would be invited only if it were absolutely needed by the math. In the last two days, this is now becoming more of a possibility since a small fraction of the BSP's support is slowly slipping hard right.

  3. NDSV/MRF minority coaltion (they are in coalition now) supported by the BSP. Unlikely but possible.
by gradinski chai on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 01:37:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The first is a fairly hard left, centre right coalition, the second is a centre right coalition, as is the third. Is that right?

How far left are the BSP?

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 01:52:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Circumstances have forced the BSP to accept much of the economic platform pushed by the World Bank, IMF, and EU. They don't like it and have talked about disregarding some points...particularly IMF points...but it will follow the general lines. They will try to improve pensions, but everyone is promising that.

They have a history of strong Russian ties and particularly the party membership are skeptical of NATO and US relations. The leadership, however, recognize the importance of NATO membership. The EU is more or less strongly supported by everyone. They pushed for withdrawing Bulgaria's Iraqi contingent after President Parvanov (also a socialist) voiced this position.

by gradinski chai on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 02:09:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't remember well enough, but how stable have previous governments been? Has it been the typical instability of Eastern Europe with changes every 12-24 months, or old-style "Romanian" unreformed governments?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 07:36:49 AM EST
By and large, Bulgarian governments have been relatively stable since 1989-90's changes.

The closest that Bulgaria came to serious civil disorder was during the 1997 crisis after a banking collapse helped lead the economy into a period of hyperinflation. (If you've never lived through an episode of hyperinflation...well...it's a trip. You sit down in a cafe and while you drink your coffee the exchange rate at the exchange bureau across the street changes twice.)

Mostly peaceful street demonstrations forced a less-than-competent and widely-perceived-as-corrupt BSP government to wisely call new elections which were won by the Union of Democratic Forces (the broad anti-communist opposition). The UDF government (1997-2001) instituted a currency board that stablized the Bulgarian lev by pegging it to the Deutschmark (now the Euro) and did much to clean up organized protection rackets masking as "insurance companies."

Simeon's Movement came and upset the relative bipolar political atmosphere by walking away with half the seats in parliament...just shy of a majority. This government (2001-2005) has largely continued the previous economic policies. The failure of the UDF to win these elections plus some personality differences within the UDF led to its splitting into three political formations. The UDF-core is likely to be the third largest party in parliament.

by gradinski chai on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 08:18:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
for the posting.

You don't know how nervous the entire political establishment and a good number of Bulgarians are that feelings in Paris will keep Bulgaria out in 2007. The politicians are all saying that everything is ok as long as the reforms continue, but who knows?

I would hope that Europeans would feel a little more comfortable about this "oasis of stability in the Balkans" as more than one European and American political leader has dubbed Bulgaria.

by gradinski chai on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 08:24:16 AM EST
I didn't read that correctly. Thanks.
by gradinski chai on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 08:25:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, thank you for the diary.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 08:37:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hah! I'll claim som responsibility as I have just given admin rights to Colman and he did specifically mention that he wanted to promote you!

So congrats to Colman as well.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 08:40:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I understand that some of the people who spend real money investing in Eastern Europe are pretty happy with the prospects for Bulgaria.

I don't think that anything short of Bulgaria doing something spectacular can derail accession at this stage. Is there even any legal basis for doing so? Does anyone dislike the Bulgarians particularly?

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 08:32:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
probably a lot more dislike for the Romanians, who are often associated with the Roms, and sadly seem to constitute a (highly visible) majority of panhandlers in the Paris metro.

Plus the aggressive pro-American stance of the Romanian government certainly does not help in Paris...

Speaking for myself, my own experience of the two countries is limited to a drive through both late in the summer of 1992. Bulgaria appeared to be less backward and brainwashed to me than Romania. (for instance, you could find petrol stations on the road...)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 08:37:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If it makes you feel any better Jerome, the majority of the panhandlers at the Bucharest metro are also ethnic Rroma ;)

BTW the Austrian giant OMV bought Petrom so there are plenty of modern "petrol" stations all over the place now ;)


Night and day you can find me Flogging the Simian

by soj on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 09:15:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the famous/infamous "Bulgarian Clause" that is part of Bulgaria's agreements with the EU (Romania's also) could force a one-year delay if the Commission (or Council) deem it necessary. Judicial reform is the biggest problem. This means some technical changes in the organization of the system and making the process a little faster and less formalistic.

The "no" vote has made some people take the "see, I told you we wouldn't get in" perspective. Some conspiracy theorists are voicing the argument that Latin-language Romania will get in while Slavic-language Bulgaria will not, despite the fact that Bulgaria has been a stronger supporter of the European line than Romania with respect to the International Criminal Court. Bulgaria didn't sign a special agreement with the US, Romania did. It cost Bulgaria $20 million in US military aid.

by gradinski chai on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 08:43:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They're mad. People in the west of Europe don't know enough about Bulgaria to have any interest in keeping it out (sorry). Romania is represented largely by Romas begging in the streets and desperate conditions in orphanages. This hasn't given the country the best of images in Western states.

(And before Soj is mean to me, I understand entirely that this is an unfair depiction of the country.)

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 08:55:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My apologies if that post came off as a bit critical of Romania. I didn't mean anything bad about Romanians at all. However, I was somewhat pissed that the government signed the agreement with the US on the ICC.
by gradinski chai on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 09:03:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ahh its ok.. people always confuse Rroma with Romanians, as thought they are one and the same - they're not.

And yes I agree with both you and the Diarist about the pro-US stance, although I should mention Romania is slated to get just one US base while Bulgaria is slated to get six.  And if you think the US will station troops there without an Article 98 exemption, you're nuts.


Night and day you can find me Flogging the Simian

by soj on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 09:18:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We're hearing down here maybe, MAYBE two bases with another two or three in Romania. Who knows?

I'm still betting that Bulgaria won't sign. Simeon's government said "no" and if the Socialists win, then it's definitely "no" on that one.

by gradinski chai on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 09:43:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Does anybody know if the Euroroma party operates in other European countries?

Money is a sign of Poverty - Culture Saying
by RogueTrooper on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 08:49:47 AM EST
It's a Bulgarian party, though I wouldn't be surprised if Romania has its own variant.

We watched the concert that their candidates gave last night on TV. It was really fun.

The party is widely seen here as a fiefdom of a couple of people and not a serious party. It's unfortunate.

Roma voters tend to split their votes. Many vote for the Socialists, a few for the UDF, and the rest for Euroroma.

by gradinski chai on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 09:02:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It isn't more than I wanted to know, it's exactly what I come for EuroTribune for ;)

Thanks for the update on my southern neighbor! I wish I spoke Bulgarian but I don't and Novinite is fine but this is exactly what I was hoping to read here.


Night and day you can find me Flogging the Simian

by soj on Fri Jun 24th, 2005 at 09:12:32 AM EST

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