25/06/2005 - D-7
On 25th June, the Bulgarians will be voting to elect their 40th Parliament. Twenty-two parties or political coalitions are running in the general election. The four main parties are the National Simeon II Movement (NDS II), the party led by the present Prime Minister, Simeon of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the Socialist Party (BSP), the main opposition party, the United Democratic Forces (ODS), a party lying to the right on the political scale and the Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS) a party that is at present a member of the government coalition representing the country's Turkish minority (around 8% of Bulgarians).
Bulgaria's membership of the EU is the central theme of the electoral campaign. On 10th June the President of the Republic, Gueorgui Parvanov, insisted on pointing out that this was to comprise the next government's priority. The National Simeon II Movement has intimated that the authorities in Brussels might reject a government led by the Socialist Party, 27 of whose leading candidates are former ministers of the former Prime Minister (December 1994-February 1997) Jan Videnov (forced to resign after a major political-economic crisis and violent demonstrations in January 1997). The Vice President of the Socialist Party, Roumen Ovtcharov, challenges this argument pointing out that the former Finance Minister of the Jan Videnov government, Dimitar Kostov was appointed deputy director of the Central Bank by Simeon of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha's government who had therefore acknowledged his qualities. "In eight years we have reformed everything and we have reformed the party – we promise to reform Bulgaria to make it a worthy member of the European Union," he declared.
Foreign Affairs Minister Solomon Passi also argued that a Socialist Party victory would endanger Bulgaria's entry into the European Union. "The truth is that the BSP is incapable of taking the negotiation process to the end and that in turn will cause the application of the safeguard clause, (the 25 have chosen a safeguard clause enabling them to postpone Bulgaria and Romania's entry by a year if the commitments undertaken by both States are not upheld)," he maintained. The chairman of the Socialist Party, Serguei Stanichev, asked the Prime Minister, Simeon of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, to disassociate himself from his Foreign Affairs Minister. "Joining the European Union is a national priority that nobody must exploit for political ends," declared the leader of the main opposition party. Lidia Chouleva, director the National Simeon II Movement's campaign invited all rightwing parties to rally together to stop the Socialist Party winning who according to her "hides a threat for the country and might slow down Bulgaria's accession to the European Union." According to an opinion poll undertaken amongst Socialist supporters by the Institute for European Research at the Free University of Brussels, published on 14th June last, nine people out of ten interviewed (89.6%) support their country's accession to the Union. According to the poll three quarters of those close to the Socialist Party support the idea of a government alliance of the BSP with the National Simeon II Movement as they do with the Movement for Rights and Freedom. The latter has in fact announced its desire to take part in the next government saying that it "was keeping its doors open to find the most appropriate coalition to govern," according to its vice-Chairman, Lutvi Mestan. "A party that defines its choices beforehand knows nothing about politics," maintained the party's Chairman Ahmed Dogan. The latter is as the electoral law allows him to be, the leading candidate in two constituencies Kardjali and Bourgas. Around a third of the candidate on the lists of the Movement for Rights and Freedom are new to the party.
The NDS II insists on the international fame of its leader and present Prime Minister Simeon de Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and places much doubt on Serguei Stanichev's ability to take on the responsibility of Prime Minister. Finally NDS II insists on the fact that Bulgaria, that still has much work to do in order to finalise its economic and social transition to fulfil the conditions necessary for its entry into the European Union, is not ready for the redistribution policy planned for by the Socialist Party. An opinion poll undertaken by Eureka Institution at the beginning of June shows that supporters of the right are more aware than those close to the left of the fact that accession to the EU will demand many more sacrifices and that this will not happen before stumbling on more traps. They are also more prepared to support parties who prove they know where the obstacles are and can show overcome them than parties who make promises without explaining how they will finance them.
On 15th June last the Supreme Administrative Court authorised the organisation of a grand lottery planned by the government to encourage people to take part in the general elections. The Court rejected requests by Nadejda Mihaïlova, leader of the United Democratic Forces, Serguei Stanichev, Chairman of the Socialist Party, Ivan Kostov, leader of the Party of Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria and Ivan Tatartchev of the Movement for National Unity and Social Justice to stop the lottery. The President of the Republic said that he was against this tombola. "Instead of wasting money on a tombola it would be better to finance the purchase of medicines," he emphasised. For its part the Socialist Party, whose electorate is traditionally more motivated, has accused the government of trying to prevent them from winning an absolute majority on 25th June.
The lottery's grand prize will be a car. The organisation of this tombola was given to the companies Globul and BTK. The Mobiltel Company gave up its involvement due to the polemic surrounding this initiative. Apart from the tombola the government granted 500,000 leva (around 250,000 euro) to the broadcast of six adverts to encourage voters to go to ballot.
Bulgarian residents in seventy-two countries will be called to vote in these general elections. 319 polling stations will be set up, i.e. twice the number during the last election on 17th June 2001. According to electoral law a polling station must be open in the countries where Bulgaria does not have permanent diplomatic if more than 20 Bulgarian citizens want to vote there. 209 civil servants will be sent to support the polling stations abroad. The number of Bulgarians living abroad has increased significantly over the last few years rising to around one and a half million. Bulgarian residents in Turkey are traditionally the most active in the general elections: 62,630 people enrolled on the electoral lists for the upcoming election (there were 40,000 on 17th June 2001). The political parties who send representatives to monitor the vote abroad will now have to assume all expenses themselves.
Opinion polls grant victory to the Socialist Party without however crediting this party with an absolute majority. According to a poll by Alpha Research published on 7th June the Socialist Party is due to win 40% of the vote, versus 21.3% for the NDS II. The Union of Democratic Forces would win 10.8% and the Movement for Rights and Freedom 7.6%. A spread of votes like this would provide the BSP with 800 seats, 56 to the NDS II, 29 to the ODS and 20 to the DPS. Two other parties the Popular Bulgarian Union and the Party of Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria led by former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov might rise above the 4% threshold, indispensable to be represented in the National Assembly, the only Chamber in parliament. "If these two parties fail to enter Parliament the Socialist Party will probably win an absolute majority," maintained the chairman of Alpha Research, Boriana Dimitrova.
Another poll undertaken by Gallup and published on 8th June grants 42.6% of the vote to the Bulgarian Socialist Party, versus 22.7% to the NDS II. The Union of Democratic Forces is due to win 11.2% and the Movement for Rights and Freedom, 7.3%. However these results came prior to a declaration issued by Simeon of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha saying that he would refuse to participate in a government coalition with the Socialist Party. The Prime Minister's words somewhat "confused the game" according to some political analysts. At the beginning of the electoral campaign the NDS II intimated that an alliance between the NDS II-BSP was possible. The Prime Minister's declaration did however please the rightwing party, the Union of Democratic Forces. "Simeon II's words are encouraging," declared its chairman, former Foreign Affairs Minister, Nadejda Mihaïlova, "this means that each vote in favour of our Union leads in the direction of the creation of a centre right government." According to sociologist Kantcho Stoïchev, the NDS II "has been trapped by the rightwing (...) for the first time a failing party managed to rise again in the opinion polls, enough to aspire to a second mandate. But this positive trend was halted. We are now witnessing the onset of a dual system again and people who tend towards the centre are wondering who they should vote for. The NDS II's attitude will in no way attract the rightwing electorate but they will turn against it. The NDS II is about to lose the best jewel in its crown, centrism."
Has the Prime Minister Simeon of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the "Tsar" as the Bulgarians call him lost every chance to stay in power and take part in the government that will take his party into the European Union because he refuses beforehand to ally himself with the Socialist Party? The answer will be given by the voters on 25th June next.