The 2015 Battle for Sofia: Who Is Running for Mayor
Local elections are coming in just days, and Novinite is fully aware it did not provide the campaign coverage a news outlet covering a particular country usually does whatever vote is forthcoming.
This was avoided on purpose, and in a short opinion piece after the vote we will explain why. Instead, we are offering short summaries about key candidates in Bulgaria’s five biggest cities. These are Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas, and Veliko Tarnovo.
Far from being an “extended ballot” – i.e. a full list of candidates with acclarations – each one is a selection of several candidates – either those who belong to one of the biggest parties or whose bid can easily be singled out for something in particular.
We start with the capital Sofia.
Yordanka Fandakova (incumbent; GERB)
Vying for a third term in office, current mayor Yordanka Fandakova is on the road to becoming Sofia's longest serving one since Ivan Ivanov who ruled for 10 years between 1934 and 1944.
Highlighting her team's record in overhauling or expanding the sewage system of Sofia, Fandakova has admitted more needs to be done and has vowed a number of projects prepared under Operational Program Environment will be submitted in her next term (if she is reelected).
Fandakova has promised that a new tenure will be marked by a focus on neighborhoods whose infrastructure needs urgent modernization.
On the other hand, she has hailed the achievement of her administration which in her words managed to eradicate illicit property deals involving some landmark buildings in Sofia - a practice which had been widely present in the years before Borisov was mayor between 2005 and 2009 (Fandakova was herself Deputy Mayor for Education at the time).
In an interview with daily Novinar, Fandakova has pointed to the main priorities of her next term in office. These are: setting up mass sports activity in the neighborhoods, energy efficiency measures, building new kindergartens, the construction of a new subway section which is to begin by the end of the year, the renovation of vehicles used by the public transport.
Her critics (she naturally has the biggest number of them among all candidates) have been accusing her for years of excessive dependence on interests of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s GERB party. It was Borisov’s victory in the 2009 general elections and his appointment as PM that paved her way to the mayoral office, with Borisov leaving and the party putting forward her candidacy.
Mihail Mirchev (BSP)
Mirchev, a Social Science professor and also the owner of ASSA-M polling agency, was a somewhat surprising candidacy produced by the Bulgarian Socialist Party. That said, he usually replies to jokes about his “unpopular” personality with either a smile of, sometimes, even with some good sense of humor.
Every development in Sofia is made ad hoc, without adherence to any systemic patterns and for the sole purpose of "stealing 20-30%" of the project's price tag, Mirchev points out in an interview with daily Dnevnik.bg. He warns Sofia lacks long-term planning. Sofia should make a more efficient use of its natural resources, with ski resorts and lifts not really "developed" and infrastructure connecting Sofia with adjacent natural beauties should be urgently improved.
The socialists’ candidate sets out several priorities: the need to eradicate "banditism" within the municipality; making the local budget of BGN 1.5 B more efficient and not that reliable on EU projects but on boosted revenue collection instead; giving the green light to "a number of businesses” which he alleges are not allowed enough freedom to expand because of not being tied to GERB party.
Project such as the recently opened waste-processing plant, on the other hand, are a "monument to folly", since separate collection of waste itself is not adequately done, sometimes taking weeks for a single truck to pass and take the garbage away.
On stray dogs and waste management, Mirchev has vowed to "go to Germany" and "copy their experience".
Mirchev has also accused Fandakova of working to conceal the activities of "bandit groups", despite assessing her work as more than average (4+, out of a 6 which is the maximum in Bulgaria's education system). One of the problems, in his words, comes from the activities or her GERB party which in Sofia, he says, are tangled in corruption schemes (and only using Fandakova to cover up traces, without involving her personally).
Mirchev’s own disadvantage, at a first glance, stems from the fact he has never been as public as some of the other contenders within the BSP who were not approved to run.
Andrey Georgiev (Movement for Rights and Freedoms)
The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), Bulgaria's third-largest electoral force which describes itself as the biggest liberal party in the country, has endorsed Andrey Georgiev – Sofia Deputy Governor while PM Plamen Oresharski was in office. Georgiev, now Deputy Chair of the party's local structure for Sofia, was previously the owner of an Internet service provider that at the time was active in the Sofia neighborhood of Lyulin. He was also a mayoral candidate in 2011, raised by a smaller party, and in 2013 sought election as MP with right-wing Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB), now part of junior coalition partner Reformist Bloc.
Georgiev has not enjoyed much attention from the media since the official campaign began in September. As his main goal at the elections he describes the need make sure that at least two municipal councilor seats in the capital Sofia.
Sofia should be a city of hi-tech industries and European tourism and even though much has to be made to achieve that, the excellent Internet infrastructure is a good basis, Georgiev believes.
He also warns of high levels of pollution, the big number of roads left to fall into disrepair, and the long-standing problems of unsocialized Roma neighborhoods.
Unlike most other candidates, Georgiev has a positive assessment of Sofia's chief architect Petar Dikov and would like to work with him if elected as Mayor.
But while calling Fandakova’s policies in Sofia "progress, and not good governance", he underlines her failure to provide education for Sofia's Roma inhabitants, managing the municipal budget, and tight dependence on her GERB party.
Criticism against him includes “political opportunism”, given that he switched “sides” by shifting from the RB to the DPS, in an environment where the former often seeks to portray the latter as its “arch-enemy” and a “symbol of the status quo”.
Vili Lilkov (Reformist Bloc)
The name of Vili Lilkov, a municipal councilor who had been relatively unknown to the public until this summer, emerged amid growing tensions within the RB that grew in the spring and early summer as the bigger parties were struggling to impose their own candidate.
Lilkov proposes that the municipality should return to citizens part of the money they pay as taxes and fees in order to help them realize local-level projects for their communities and neighborhoods.
He has joined other candidates in repeatedly warning of the "lack of balance" in urban development, with the downtown area advancing at a much quicker pace and many neighborhoods dotted with disrepair. In an interview with Mediapool in October, he says there are "two cities" in Sofia - the central area is one, and all the rest is the other. Along "geographic" lines there are clear divisions as well, with the northern areas lagging behind the southern ones in terms of infrastructure and investment, he added, pointing out that 70% of the investment into Sofia was allocated to 30% of its area.
Lilkov calls on the Sofia municipality to use the tools of public-private partnerships more efficiently to manage dwellings (with 140 000 uninhabited, out of 600 000), to reinvent some areas by pursuing de-industrialization and making them more fit to live or work in. Sofia should become "greener" as was envisaged under earlier plans, and should make better use of the 20 rivers passing through its territory that have been turned into "swamps", he also believes.
All this is due to a municipal policy of "following only the agenda put forward by European money", Lilkov opines, urging the establishment of a municipal investment company to work with "serious investors".
Lilkov's own election campaign sparked some controversy after he appeared in a paid interview with Kanal 3, a media outlet which RB members themselves (along with others) claim is owned by MP Delyan Peevski - the man whose appointment as head of the national security agency DANS in 2013 sparked nationwide protests. The RB has been the fiercest opponent of Peevski and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), the party of which he is a member, and, as mentioned above, has sought to portray itself as an alternative to the Peevsky-style, "corrupt" political model of Bulgaria.
Georgi Kadiev (endorsed by the “Serdica” Coalition, supported by Alternative for Bulgarian Revival)
For many years Kadiev was known as a self-styled "dissident" within the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), where he often voiced opinions diverging from the ones adopted by his party's leadership and by lawmakers. Last month, however, he was expelled from the party after deciding to run independently. The BSP picked Mihail Mirchev (you can read more about him above), while left-wing ABV party of President (2002-2012) Georgi Parvanov said it would back his candidacy. Kadiev already ran as the BSP candidate in 2011, but lost to incumbent Yordanka Fandakova. He is now backed by the local "Serdica" coalition (Serdica is the name of an ancient, once thriving city located precisely where Sofia is now), which includes ABV.
Kadiev portrays himself as an alternative to Fandakova and sees her, and not Mirchev, as her main opponent – a claim both Fandakova and Mirchev are quick to fend off every time they are asked about him.
"There are only two seasons in Sofia: one of dust and one of mud," Kadiev told daily Trud in mid-October, repeating an old joke and attributing the problem to the fact that the mayor is "merely a facade" to hide the fact that Sofia, in his words, is run by PM Boyko Borisov.
Kadiev has pledged to end some vicious practices to which Sofia Municipality has adhered over the past years, citing multiple repairs of "the same streets" five or six times in a tenure, in an interview with the Bulgarian National Television. "We once repair them with EU funding, the second time we do through our own budget".
Kadiev also argues every neighborhood should have its own identity achieved through renovation and through much needed infrastructure (not just roads but also parks, sports areas and cultural hubs). Another key issue, in his words, is how to deal withthe fact that Sofia is overcrowded with new buildings, something he blames on chief architect Petar Dikov. He calls into question the quality of road reconstruction works done around Sofia.
On the other hand, he has often been subject to criticism for allegedly serving "lobbyist" interests in Parliament and having done so as Deputy Finance Minister in a 2005-2009 government with the BSP in a leading role (he stepped down in 2007).
Viktor Lilov (DEOS)
Not that he is supported by a big party or is a highly recognized public figure; it should be noted, however, that for the first-ever time, an LGBT candidate is standing for election in Sofia.
Viktor Lilov, the candidate of DEOS, a newly-established political party, was a member of the Reformist Bloc's civic council but quit over issues of policy. A music producer, Lilov believes that, alongside all problems already singled out by other candidates, a sign of the numerous issues Sofia has to deal with is its "failure" to become the 2019 European Capital of Culture. Tackling pollution, de-regulation of waste collection and the removal of Petar Dikov as chief architect (the latter being considered partly responsible for Sofia's "lack of vision for its own future"), will be among his main priorities if elected, Lilov has told Dnevnik.
"Sofia has two mayors. One of them hasn't run in elections, he has no vision for the city, but has too much power. The result is appalling," he is quoted as saying in a reference to Dikov.
Lilov has also called for a broader role of municipalities in the work on concrete measures to address problems of migrants and refugees at a local level, for instance steps to facilitate language learning and to set up information points, but also to tell "these people's real stories".
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