Blair's Lover and Kadyrov's Friend: the Stranger Presidential Hopefuls of Bulgaria (Part 2)
There are as many as twenty-one presidential pairs running the forthcoming elections in Bulgaria, all competing to take over the office of President. While a head of state does not enjoy too many powers, but virtually serving as a broker between institutions and a key stakeholder in shaping the country's agenda and vision, being able to call consultations, veto bills, and make key appointments.
Novinite has so far given detailed information only about six of the candidates - those either considered front-runners or being somewhat linked to the governing coalition (Tsetksa Tsacheva, Rumen Radev, Krasimir Karakachanov, Ivaylo Kalfin, Traycho Traykov, Tatyana Doncheva). We have also adhered to data from the first poll published in October which gave an edge to those candidates.
Going down the list, the apparent "losers" should not be underestimated, though, as many of them are either being suspected as puppets of other parties that will "drain" votes in the first round or - what is worse - have openly indicated they will not be voting for themselves. Others have a background that could easily raise eyebrows.
In Bulgaria – just like in the United States – anyone could run for President if he or she meets the constitutional requirements. In times of worldwide disillusion with mainstream politicians, independents who fight the status quo feel an ever warmer welcome from the public.
But candidates failing to show coherent ideas - or any knowledge on politics and society – are fighting in the first place is a million-dollar question.
Compared to other Bulgarian Turks active in politics, Kemil Ramadan is an unlikely sight. A Bulgarian entrepreneur born in Velingrad into a Pomak family, he portrays himself as a Bulgarian patriot and praises Bulgaria's medieval past (making a reference back to 681). He says he does not only count in “Kardzhali and the Rhodopes”, where many Bulgarian Muslims live, but also on “people with free minds.”
“Because I am the best and I am the first Bulgarian Muslim [to run]... They [the ruling political class] has turned Bulgaria into a desert. They will soon make us ride camels [out of poverty],” he says while introducing himself to the audience in a campaign where neither of the two rivaling ethnic Turk-dominated parties in Bulgaria, the DPS and splinter party DOST, have tabled their own candidates or made an outright endorsement.
Apart from being the first Muslim to run for President, Ramadan also became one of the few contenders to publicly “endorse” Donald Trump as a US counterpart if elected “as Hillary will bring the world to a new war.”
Ramadan claims to be friends with both Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan bin Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, the United Arab Emirates' Deputy Prime Minister. “Sheikh Mansour [of the UAE] called me four hours ago,” he told the Bulgarian National Television on October 10. “He said that if I became President, Abu Dhabi Investment would make Bulgaria a present. It will grant a billion for each company of Bulgarian citizens.”
Bulgaria must leave the EU and NATO and count on its own efforts. “I am a Bulgarophile,” he says, denying he may support closer ties with Russia – but he also opposes visa-free entry into Europe for Turkish nationals. “Turkey should not even think about the EU,” he says. The government in Sofia should also consider turning down all migrants.
Biser Milanov, a.k.a. "The Stain", may have missed out on completing secondary education. „I have a diploma for tenth grade,” he told the Bulgarian National Television, “but I cannot find [the one issued after] high school.” While some dub him the voice of counter-protesters, who chanted in the streets of Sofia in support of Plamen Oresharski, he claims he was also active in the demonstrations of February 2013, which toppled down Borisov's first government.
With nearly five years of his life behind bars and a confession that he does not read books, he portrays himself as a victim of the political establishment. He got his first of seven sentences in 18, but it was a suspended one. Subsequently, he was imprisoned over robbery, jail break, hooliganism, obstruction of police, heavy bodily harm, and later average bodily harm. In 2014 he threatened a woman to "cut her head off" and was charged with a death threat, but was released on a BGN 5000 bail.
Kamen Popov rose to fame as "the man who punched Volen Siderov," a nationalist party leader, last autumn, during a late-night brawl involving Siderov in downtown Sofia. After the incident, he kept a low profile until July, when he was part of the "delegation" that received the Russian bikers' group called Night Wolves upon their arrival in Bulgaria.
An entrepreneur and a former professional sportsman, he defines himseslf as a patriot and nationalist who used to sympathize with the Bulgarian National Union, a controversial organization led by Boyan Rasate. Running as an independent candidate, he says he is better than rivals because "he depends on nobody" and "is against the system and the status quo". "Why am I famous? Because people like me, because I'm cool," he told a TV station in September. He later made clear "neutrality of Bulgaira on the main geopolitical issues" and an effort to "appease Bulgaria with Russia" would be a main priority for him if he got elected. Georgi Nedelchev, a member of the Bulgarian Union for Direct Democracy, is his running mate.
Yordanka Koleva, a candidate from the Black Sea city of Burgas, and her running mate Veselin Hristov, an aspiring lawmaker who failed to gain a seat in 2013, became the most mysterios presidential pair.
Koleva in particular has not taken part in public events in recent years - but gained short-lived fame in 2014, when a TV investigation revealed her work as a "diviner" and "psychic" and exposed her promises to cure cancer for BGN 1000 per visit, under the pseudonym of Yoana Rubin, was a scam. On Facebook, she describes herself as "Journalist. Physicist. Mathematician. Psychologist. Clairvoyant. Own methods of treatment of different diseases."
She also boasts about helping candidate Biser Milanov to get out of jail and that Russian President Vladimir Putin came to Bulgaria in 2010 at her own initiaive. "I am just a pensioner now and I am preparing to become a good president... I waited for 40 years and it is high time," she told NOVA TV. "I advised Tony Blair at the National Assembly [sic!]. He invited me to go live with him in his home in London," she added.
If any of these candidates, however, can be called “famous”, it is Dimitar Marinov, known across Bulgaria as Mityo Pishtova ("Mityo the Pistol"). The businessman fan for a public office for the first time in 2003, when he entered the mayoral contest in Veliko Tarnovo but mustered just 1.7 percent of the vote. He also made an effort for the Presidency in 2006 but failed to register as he did not gather enough signatures to submit for his candidacy. Pishtova, endorsed by the Bulgarian National Unity party, has often boasted about his love for women, jacuzzies, and other accessories. "I am the favourite of the people and will be the president of the people," he says, vowing to hand out beer and meatballs to elderly people, "having invented the meatballs back in 1991."
"Hello, mother and father," his running mate, singer Radoslav Petrov, says in their campaign video. A renowned pop folk singer with nine albums in his discography, the so-called "Rado Shisharkata" was hugely popular in the 1990s, becoming a benchmark of Bulgarian turbo-folk music.
"I will turn the fountain in front of the Presidency into a jacuzzi," Pishtova jokes in a September interview. But just a few later, he would tell NOVA TV station: "I wouldn't vote for myself. I would vote for GERB."
Ironically, Shisharkata asserts that, while their bid is partly “for show”, he adds his motivation partly lies in a desire to “wake up” people who haven't decided to vote.
Two dropouts also sparked controversy by running – even after their bids were declared void by electoral authorities over an insufficient number of signatures submitted to support their bid.
Svetoslav Vitkov, a rock star and municipal councilor, also stormed the presidency in 2011, when his campaign was wrapped up in humorous symbolism and seen as a protest against the entire political class. His party, Glas Naroden (which can be translated as "Vox Populi"), was set up in 2013, and since then has passed the 4% threshold in neither of the two parliaments elected in that year and 2014 - but has qualified for state subsidies for both, garnering more than 1% in support and earning BGN 11 per vote.
His candidacy was intended to be the result of a controversial handshake between Glas Naroden and The Greens, which angered some voters in the environmentalist party who condemned the decision as a breach of principles through an "unholy alliance" with a "xehophobic, sexist and nationalist" party.
Vladimir Kuzov rose to fame as one of the few Bulgarian lawmakers expelled from Parliament, tried and sentenced. Kuzov was found guilty of pedophilia in 2007, but his imprisonment was later replaced with a suspended sentence.
Kuzov sought to be the first openly gay presidential candidate and had promised to pardon all prisoners if elected.
He is also known for being a keen folklore singer.
Novinite's first article on "the odd ones out" in the presidential race is available here.
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