Ready, Set...Who Is Running for Bulgarian President?
As the presidential election campaign in Bulgaria is still in a relatively early stage, politicians are expectedly shy about announcing their candidacies.
Political systems around the world are quite different, but when it comes to presidential elections, the agonizing "we have not decided yet" period seems to take place almost everywhere.
However, some six months before the vote, bits and pieces of the puzzle are slowly falling together. While the ruling centrist-right GERB has said it will not announce its candidate until August, others are already on the starting line. Here is how the competition seems to be shaping up:
The Front Runner
"Whoever GERB endorses will become President" is the most obvious statement anyone could think of regarding the upcoming elections. Indeed, all recent polls show the ruling party also enjoys the highest approval rating. It faces a tough problem, though - its popularity depends heavily on the charisma of its leader and Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov. Unsurprisingly, rumors emerged that Borisov himself may end up running - and Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, who is also head of the party's presidential campaign, recently admitted the Prime Minister is considered.
Borisov's potential presidency bid might look like "playing safe", but it has obvious flaws. If he leaves his current office, the party will likely struggle to find another strong figure to succeed him, unless the Bulgarian EU Commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, who has been crowned by polls as the country's most popular politician, decides to take over (Georgieva is not eligible for President, since she has not lived in Bulgaria the past 5 years, as it is required).
Furthermore, even though Borisov would be a strong favorite, a possible loss would be a huge blow for him and GERB, from which they will hardly recover.
Regional Development Minister Rosen Plevneliev has been named as another possible GERB candidate, but he has stated on several occasions he does not intend to run, as he considers himself an expert and not a politician. Parliamentary chair Tsetska Tsacheva has also been mentioned, but she is not nearly as popular as Borisov and will have a tough time against strong oppositional figures.
Meglena Kuneva is Bulgaria's former EU Commissioner - and that is among her main merits. As suspicious Bulgarians are towards their "homegrown" politicians, they have a great respect for those who have achieved recognition abroad. Kuneva may have lost some of her momentum since she stepped out from her position, but her CV will not fail to impress.
The former EU Commissioner has actually not announced whether she will be running with certainty yet, but has made a strong move by stating firmly she would be a non-partisan candidate, thus distancing herself from the faults of the country's former three-way government (2005-2009) and appealing to a vast number of swing voters;
There is also a very distinct possibility that the leftist Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), as well as the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) could endorse her, especially if she reaches the second tour and is fighting a GERB candidate.
It was the centrist National Movement for Stability and Prosperity, also a participant in the three-way government, which introduced Kuneva to the spotlight of Bulgarian politics, but given her strict non-partisan position, the party may endorse its own candidate.
It could be the movement's ex-leader, former Bulgarian Tsar and Prime Minister (2001-2005), Simeon Saxe-Coburg, as current leader, Hristina Hristova recently hinted. A conclusive decision is yet to be announced.
The Left Winger
Charismatic actor and former Culture Minister from the three-way government, Stefan Danailov, is among the names mentioned as possible BSP candidates, even though he has stated he has no intention of running. Other probable runners include former Foreign Minister, Ivaylo Kalfin, BSP MP Petar Kurumbashev, as well as the party's leader and former Prime Minister, Sergey Stanishev. Stanishev, however will need a constitutional change, as he is born in Ukraine and not in Bulgaria, which is a necessary condition for eligibility under the current legislation.
BSP's stands a reasonable chance of at least reaching the second tour, since it is the second most popular Bulgarian party. If the voter turnout is low, as expected, BSP's well-disciplined voters may achieve a considerable result.
The socialists' potential success in the fall depends on a crucial factor in Bulgaria's political life - the ethnic Turkish DPS, which will not aspire to win with its own candidate, but is expected to "donate" its voters to the leftists.
DPS's value as a "team player" has recently produced conspiracy theories, according to which it will sell its votes to GERB instead, but at the present moment it seems much more likely it will continue its cooperation with BSP.
The Right Winger
The Rightist Blue Coalition, which consists of the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) and Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB) parties, has to choose between two nominees - Rumen Hristov from SDS, a former Minister and vice-Minister of Agriculture, as well as advisor to Bulgaria's Presidents Zhelyu Zhelev and Petar Stoyanov, and DSB's MP Svetoslav Malinov. The outcome will be made clear after a preliminary election.
Neither of them stands any chance of getting to the second tour, which leaves the coalition no choice but to reluctantly support Borisov's candidate (or Borisov himself) - thus angering its voters, who tend to dislike him. Supporting a candidate that has anything to do with the three-way government would equal a political suicide. Being simultaneously oppositional to GERB and the parties from the former government, the small Blue Coalition is unlikely to be looking forward to October.
The Comic Relief Character
Claiming a minor traffic accident was a terror attack against him, verbally assaulting and throwing sandwiches at flight attendants because he thought they were looking at him in a funny way, deliberately staging a scandal in a bar to provoke US Ambassador James Warlick - Volen Siderov, the flamboyant leader of the far-right Ataka (Attack) party surely knows how to stay in the news cycle.
Of course, Siderov does not have much credibility and does not seem to stand any chances of winning, even though he already reached the second tour once - in 2006, when he was smashed by current President Georgi Parvanov, as even those who disliked the incumbent decided to vote for the more "normal" guy.
Siderov's candidacy may seem ridiculous, but he actually holds a very key political position: being the leader of GERB's only parliamentary ally, he is basically keeping the minority government alive. The ruling party will hope he would keep a low profile and not get too erratic during the presidential campaign.
The controversial conservative Law, Order and Justice (RZS) party has not named its potential candidates yet. The formation is believed to be the mouthpiece of notorious former National State Security Service agent and alleged mafia boss, Alexei Pertov, who announced he was running for President already in 2010, but recently claimed he was withdrawing from the race.
It was RZS and the Galeria tabloid, also believed to be tied with Petrov, who recently distributed allegedly recorded phone conversations, discrediting high GERB officials, including Borisov. No matter whom the marginal RZS decides to endorse, it will most probably continue its severe black PR strategy during the campaign, assaulting mainly the ruling party.
In November 2010, Bulgaria's current President, Georgi Parvanov, created a formation called Alternative for Bulgarian Renaissance (ABV, or the first three letters of the Cyrillic alphabet). It was firmly stated that ABV is not a political party, but the President may still decide to endorse his own or somebody else's candidate, which would have some impact on the outcome of the elections, since Parvanov enjoys a decent popularity.
Besides the formations mentioned, there is a myriad of marginal parties, many of which with a patriotic agenda, which may also decide to join the presidential race and have some fun. But all that matters now is the upcoming announcements of the key players.