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Bulgaria - General Elections

The socialist party wins the bulgarian general elections but fails to win an absolute majority

The socialist party wins the bulgarian general elections but fails to win an absolute majority

25/06/2005 - Results

With 31% of the vote the Socialist Party (BSP) won the Bulgarian general elections ahead of the National Simeon II Movement (NDS II) that won 19.88%. Although it came out with a sufficiently wide majority over the outgoing Prime Minister Simeon of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha's party that lost 22.82 points in comparison with the previous election on 17th June 2001, the Socialist Party is legitimately disappointed in not winning an absolute majority especially since the last opinion polls predicted it obtaining 40% of the vote. Its victory was in fact weakened by the result achieved by the extreme rightwing party Ataka (Attack) that was the source of surprise, coming fourth with 8.16% of the vote.

Ataka that was founded just two months ago, is a xenophobic party (anti-Turkish and anti-Gipsy; together these minorities represent 16% of Bulgarians) and parades as the defender of purity of the State and the Bulgarian nation, of the values of the Orthodox Church and Slav identity. The party fights against corruption and for the end of the country's tutelage by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Ataka says that it is against Bulgaria's entry into the EU and its membership of NATO. The rise in popularity of this party is an all time first in a country that has many minorities but which until now has avoided the ethnic tensions that were at the root of the bloody wars in the Balkans when the Communist system collapsed in the 1990's. The charismatic, populist leader, Volen Siderov, a journalist, does not hesitate in maintaining that Bulgaria is ruled by a ‘political mafia'. "This government is involved in drug and arms trafficking whilst Bulgarians are dying because they don't have enough medicines," he declared during the electoral campaign. "Bulgaria is a monolithic, uniform nation. Differences in religion and ethnic groups should not be apparent," he continued adding that the Movement for Rights and Freedom (MDL), a member of the outgoing government coalition was ‘unconstitutional'.

The extreme rightwing party rallies an eclectic group of people and movements: Petar Beron, a former founder of the United Democratic Forces (ODS) in 1990, and present vice-president of the new movement; Petar Manolov, former dissident and poet and even leftwing movements on the political scale such as the Union of Retired Officers. Volen Siderov, the former editor in chief of the leading anti-communist Bulgarian daily, Demokratija, and author of several books in which he attacks the "Jewish conspiracy against Orthodox Bulgarians," now hosts a TV programme on a private channel, Scat. "The first thing I would do if I were an MP? I would fight for the Turkish language to be banned from TV news programmes on State channels. There is a true genocide of Bulgarians in areas inhabited by Turks and where it is no longer possible to speak Bulgarian," he declared.

With its name Ataka seems to have fixed the vote of those who feel they are the real losers in the economic transition and who suffer as they witness the decline of their living conditions and for whom EU membership is synonymous to future problems. "Politicians have constantly underestimated the gulf that runs through Bulgarian society," analyses Mira Yanova, director the marketing and social studies institute (MBMD). "Although a part of the population has succeeded in taking advantage of the transition towards the market economy that started after the fall of Communism in 1989, notably thanks to corruption many people often amongst the most humble feel they are being deprived of the advantages of growth." "With his populist approach Volen Siderov expresses the discontent of the voiceless, who he pretends to return to a state of dignity," also emphasises political analyst Andrei Raitchev.

The Movement for Rights and Freedom (MDL), a party led by Ahmed Dogan representing the country's Turkish minority (around 8% of Bulgarians), won 12.68% of the vote i.e. 5.48 points more than four years ago.

The United Democratic Forces (ODS), a party led by former Foreign Affairs Minister, Nadeja Mikailhova, lying to the right of the political scale won 7.70% of the vote.

The Party of Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, a rightwing party led by former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov won 6.45% of the vote and the National Bulgarian Union led by the mayor of the capital Sofia, Stefan Sofianski, 5.20%.

The participation rate had declined in comparison with the last election in 2001, rising to 56% (- 10.7 points). The famous tombola that was set up by Simeon of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha's government designed to encourage the Bulgarians to go to ballot was therefore not as successful as was hoped. Two million euros had been released to buy cars, computers and even mobile phones distributed after voters drew lots before fulfilling their civic duty.

Without an absolute majority the Socialist Party, that came out ahead in the general elections, is obliged to create rapidly a government coalition that is able to make the necessary reforms for Bulgaria's accession to the EU on January 1st 2007. Seven parties are now represented in the Narodno sabranie (the National Assembly), the Single Chamber in Parliament in comparison with four before. The country cannot however afford to be politically unstable with the danger of witnessing its accession to the Union postponed by a year (the 25 have reserved the option of postponing accession by a year with a safeguard clause if Bulgaria does not adhere to its commitments). The chairman of the Socialist Party Serguei Stanichev, said he was ready to "start consultations with all of the country's democratic forces to guarantee the country's stability," with the notable exception of Ataka, a party with which all political parties, who are all in favour of Bulgaria joining the EU, have said they will not collaborate. "We have won the people's confidence and we are ready to form a government. We shall do what is necessary for Bulgaria to have a stable government," declared Serguei Stanichev. "National unity must prevail in solving Bulgaria's problems; we must provide ourselves with the image of a stable country before entering the European Union," maintained Roumen Petkov, vice-president of the PSB. The Socialist Party might form a coalition with the Movement for Rights and Freedom (MDL) or with some members of the National Simeon II Movement who would accept participating in a government led by Serguei Stanichev; it might also ally itself with the Movement for Rights and Freedom with the entire National Simeon II Movement in which case a neutral figure who is able to win everyone's agreement would then be appointed Prime Minister. "I cannot see a third partner other than the National Simeon II Movement to create majority in Parliament," declared Roumen Petkov on the private TV channel BTV, saying that negotiations were on going with the National Simeon II Movement and the Movement for Rights and Freedom.

Thirty-nine year old Serguei Stanichev was born of a Bulgarian father and a Russian mother. He gave up his Russian citizenship five years ago – the first paragraph of article 65 of the Bulgarian Constitution prohibits MP's from having dual nationality. However his desire to maintain the Russian form of his patronym - Dmitrievitch- whilst his father is called Dimitar shocks a great number of Bulgarians. Serguei Stanichev, who is a Doctor from History at the University of Lomonosov of Moscow, was briefly a journalist before joining the Socialist Party in 1995 on the invitation of the then vice-president Krasimir Premianov. He was elected MP of the 19th constituency of Rousse during the general elections on 17th June 2001, and then became chairman of the parliamentary group of the country's main opposition party, the Coalition for Bulgaria (KzB), an alliance of the various leftwing parties, the main leader of which is the Socialist Party. He then succeeded Gueorgui Parvanov at the head of the Socialist Party during the election of the latter as President of the Republic on 18th November 2001. Although during the electoral campaign the Socialist Party promised to raise salaries by 20% and challenged the ‘liberal approach' adopted by Simeon of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha's government the party does not intend to break away from the policies undertaken by its predecessors.

The National Simeon II Movement that has taken a major blow, can however be satisfied with the result obtained after four years in power. Although over the past fifteen years no government party has been re-elected mainly because of the reforms they have set in motion, often painful for most of the population, the outgoing Prime Minister's party has won with its ally the Movement for Rights and Freedom a higher percentage of votes than that of the Socialist Party. "Voters have not turned their backs on the outgoing government which is a major success and reflects steady development over the last four years," emphasised Kancho Stoichev from the Agency BBSS Gallup. "Liberal ideas that have led the country over the last four years have won significant popular support," maintains deputy Prime Minister, Plamen Panayotov.

Even before the elections results were announced the Movement for Rights and Freedom, allied to the Simeon II Movement in the previous term of office said via its leader Ahmed Dogan, that they were in favour of forming a ‘centre left' government. But this support will not however be enough for the Socialists to reach an absolute majority of 121 seats. "It will be difficult for the Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedom to form a government without the National Simeon II Movement," emphasised outgoing Transport Minister Nikolaï Vassilev. During an electoral evening Prime Minister Simeon of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, who had rejected any alliance with the main opposition party during the electoral campaign admitted that it was necessary to "find a common language in the country's interest," saying that the "the wider the next government in scope the better it will be." Some members of the National Simeon II Movement did however say they were against having any part in a government coalition led by Serguei Stanichev. "An alliance in which the outgoing Prime Minister continues in office is the only solution to avoid an institutional standstill," maintained outgoing Finance Minister Milen Veltchev.

If the Socialist Party does not manage to form a government within the next two weeks the President of the Republic, Gueorgui Parvanov, will grant the party that took second place in the general elections i.e. the National Simeon II Movement the task of creating the team. They will then have a week to form a government. The Bulgarian Constitution does not however impose any deadline on the President of the Republic to conclude his discussions with the political parties. However all the political leaders are aware that the country cannot afford lengthy negotiations as far as the creation of the next government is concerned. Indeed Bulgaria must convince the European Commission that it is capable of integrating the European Union. To do this it must necessarily complete the reform of its legal and public administration systems, make progress in terms of the fight against organised crime and succeed in improving the standard of living of the Gipsy population. The earlier the future government launches itself into this heavy assignment the greater its chances will be of success.

General Election Results 25th June 2005

Participation rate: 56%

Source Central Bulgarian Electoral Commission
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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