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My new heroes...Bulgarian journalists

by gradinski chai Mon Jun 27th, 2005 at 03:02:18 AM EST

promoted from the diaries by Jerome. This is the other important election of the week-end...

Bulgarians allowed the extreme right into parliament in Saturday's voting in the form of the anti-Roma, anti-EU/US "Attack" movement. The group took about 8.2% of the vote and is likely to see some 22 seats in Bulgaria's 240 member parliament. This makes it the fourth largest group in a seven party parliament. The number of parties entering also the largest that we've seen in the past three elections.

People at our election watch party on Saturday night were amazed, angry, and maybe a little amused by Attack's entry.

Watching the press conference of the "Attack" group in the wee hours of Sunday morning was an experience full of enough historical analogies to make one a little uneasy...the low turnout election (55.6% is low for Bulgaria)...the divided electorate sending a number of small parties to parliament, and the difficulty of forming a governing coalition with these electoral results.

The only thing that I can say is that the journalists at this press conference did the profession proud. They asked tough questions and tried to follow up when they were being fed empty air and words with no meaning designed solely to sound good. They started getting a little irritated at the flippant remarks and started asking their own more pointed and ironic questions. It was clear that the Attack leader could not handle their questions. The reporters were really having none of it and the situation was getting more tense. The Attack delegation abruptly left when a brave reporter from Bulgarian National Radio asked something to the effect of "Since you're not going to answer any substantive question, I have another serious question for you...when was the last time you saw your psychiatrist?" The room erupted in laughter and applause.

Early in the evening, I was worried by Attack having a legitimate platform to spit their venom. I'm less worried now because they really have nothing substantive to say. Ask a policy question; they can't respond.

American journalists could learn from Bulgarian journalists at this press conference. If they had asked the tough questions that were being asked and if they had not allowed non-answers to pass for answers, the world would be a better place right now.  

Some afterthoughts:

Roma voters voted for the traditionally Turkish MRF in much larger numbers than usual. It's still too early to know if we're seeing something develop here.

At present it looks like the following distribution of seats (unofficial):

BG Socialist Party (82)
Simeon II's Movement (52)
MRF (Turkish party) (33)
Attack (extreme right) (22)
UDF (center right) (20)
Dems for Strong BG (right) (17)
BG People's Union (center right) (14)

The socialists will be asked to form a government. The MRF has already said yes. (This preelection announcement that the Socialists and the MRF would be willing to form a coaltion is seen as having cost the Socialists about 4-5% of their expected vote, which went to Attack. Talks are underway with Simeon's party. It's likely that someone from Simeon's party will be the prime minister (but maybe not Simeon).

For even more info, you can check out English language news on the subject at http://www.novinite.com/view_news.php?id=49192.

Thanks for that. Why did Attack do so well?

It occurs to me that, with 25 countries plus accession states plus strategically important nearby states we'll be kept busy just keeping track of elections around here.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Jun 27th, 2005 at 03:17:24 AM EST
I think that you're right...it will be election watch central here.

Listening to Attack's leader list the problems that the people face on a daily basis, it's easy to be sympathetic. He talks about poverty, about pensioners going through garbage cans for food, about cancer patients who have difficulty getting medicines and a larger failing health system, corruption in the political classes, and other problems. He points out the problems and is not afraid to do so. I can agree with him on many of the points that he makes...its on the causes and the solutions that he gets scary.

The other parties just talk around these problems. The center right parties show the same old faces and sound as if they are stuck in 1992 fighting the old communists and as if markets will solve every problem. The socialists still aren't being responsive and democractic and transparent. All parties seem more concerned with whom they will/will not form election coalitions than with solving problems...maybe it's that the parties seem to view creating a coalition as THE only problem.

The slippage from the Socialist electorate to Attack was by socialist voters in non-Turkish areas who are a little angry/distrusting of the MRF's leader, Ahmed Dogan. Dogan is seen as slippery and willing to do any deal to stay in power. That hasn't gone down well with many Bulgarians.

by gradinski chai on Mon Jun 27th, 2005 at 03:28:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you're right.. and Poland's got a big one coming up at the end of this year.  Plus Albania has parliamentary elections the first week of July.

Anyone here speak Shqip?


Night and day you can find me Flogging the Simian

by soj on Mon Jun 27th, 2005 at 03:39:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Who is Simeon II's movement and what do they stand for?

Iraq War news and comment.
by Eternal Hope on Mon Jun 27th, 2005 at 03:42:47 AM EST
This is a tougher question than it looks at face value. Simeon II returned to Bulgaria in 2000-01 with the intention of running for president. Unfortunately for him, the constitution has a five year residency requirement that he did not meet. Faced with this situation, he brought together the National Movement of Simeon II. This assemblage of various personalities ran on a plague-on-all-your-left/right-houses platform and won half the seats in parliament. This surprised everyone, even (according to some) Simeon, who now had to put together a government. This band of old names, young "technocrats," and others have largely carried out the same policies of the previous UDF (original democratic opposition) government. It places itself in the ELDR (liberals) in the European political space, and maybe this is the case, but one has to look hard to see it.

While some conspiracy theories have it that Simeon has made out like a bandit from his time in government, I don't see it. He seems like a genuinely good person with a sense of noblesse oblige of his position. He steered Bulgaria (along with a good Foreign Minister, Solomon Passi) during a difficult time in the runup to the Iraq War when Bulgaria was on the UN Security Council. We certainly could have done much worse.

by gradinski chai on Mon Jun 27th, 2005 at 08:12:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hello Gradinski Chai! Thank you for your reports on the Bulgarian election...very helpful. Can you say some more about where the Bulgarian Socialist Party is, and where it wants to go? Anything you can say about their new 39 year old leader would be of interest too. I hope he can be a positive leader. What do you think?

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Jun 27th, 2005 at 04:57:30 AM EST
For me, the BSP still has some way to go before becoming a real left force. The party has been very slow to democratize and become transparent, which can be seen in its inability to get a clean bill of health from the Socialist Internationale (become a full member) until 19 May of THIS YEAR. I mean, come on, when the Internationale waits this long to make one a full member party, there must be some problems.  

The party is floundering like many of the leftist parties in Europe. Devoid of real ideas, it doesn't know how to serve the needs of its voters under the strains of globalization and the requirements of the EU and IMF.

When it has an idea, it seems not well thought out. For example, it recently made some rather bizarre statements about our currency board which pegs the national currency, the lev, to the euro. The board was put into place after the 1997 bank & political crisis/hyperinflation. Maybe in theory there are problems with a currency board, but in this case, it has worked. It has stablized the economy and built confidence in the lev. So, the BSP has the bright idea to get rid of the currency board...now no one is quite sure WHY we should get rid of it...but we should get rid of it...within a few weeks the party seems to have changed its mind on the issue.

It is also plagued by the demographics of its electorate: most members and supporters are over 55. The only reason they do well in elections is that older voters vote in larger numbers, there are more older voters in BG (our population is declining), and they are committed voters.

Stanishev came as a young face to modernize the party and attract younger voters. So far I think that he means well and recognizes some of the challenges that the party faces. He has tried to push the envelope some, but the party needs change in the top. Many of the faces are the same faces we've seen since 1990...and they seem to reek of the unreformed, uninspired, lethargic nomenklatura of that period. This is really unfortunate since there are some younger members of the left that could be more creative and democratic.

I would really, really like to see a dynamic left force that offers realizable, innovative, and considered policy solutions that are carried out by open, transparent, and trustworthy officials. Unfortunately, in my view, we're not quite there yet.

by gradinski chai on Mon Jun 27th, 2005 at 07:16:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks...very informative. My leanings are Socialist, and I keep hoping the Socialist party in Switzerland (and elsewhere in Europe) focus on job development. It is not good when younger people coming out of school find no jobs. If the Socialists could be creative and create jobs, it would give them a big boost (and make a lot of people happy).

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Jun 27th, 2005 at 07:50:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not very schooled in the PES and Green think tanks, but both groups could use an infusion of ideas. Or, if they are there, then better presentation of them.
by gradinski chai on Mon Jun 27th, 2005 at 08:16:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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