FT: Potential for Lengthy Instability, New Protests in Bulgaria*
By Theodor Troev in Sofia and Neil Buckley in London
The Financial Times
The center-right party of former premier Boiko Borisov had a narrow lead in elections in Bulgaria on Sunday, just three months after his government was toppled by street protests.
In an election marred by allegations of vote-rigging, taking place amid widespread disillusionment with the political class, exit polls showed Mr Borisov’s Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria, known as Gerb, on 30-32 per cent, ahead of the Socialists on 25-27 per cent.
The elections seemed unlikely to restore faith in the political system, after unrest over poverty and economic stagnation in February brought tens of thousands of people on to the streets in cities across the 7m-strong country, in the nation’s biggest demonstrations since the mid 1990s.
Seven people died after setting themselves alight during the protests, initially triggered by rising heating prices, a sign of the desperation in the EU’s poorest member.
The return of a Borisov-led government would be unpopular among much of the population. But with both main parties well short of a majority, analysts warned that the electoral arithmetic could make it difficult for either to form a workable coalition – potentially leading to lengthy instability that could lead to new protests.
A few hundred demonstrators gathered in Sofia on Sunday night after the polls closed. A handful later were later involved in violent clashes after they throw stones and torches at police.
“These were elections of disillusion and disappointment – the campaign started out that way and finished the same way,” said Vladimira Vladimirova, an image and marketing consultant, earlier outside one Sofia polling station. “I didn’t see politicians even trying to attract us with complete and clear platforms. They mainly focused on denigrating the opponents.”
A wiretapping scandal during the campaign seemed to have increased disenchantment with both leading political groups.
Four parties appeared set to pass the voting threshold to enter parliament, including the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, representing ethnic Turks, on about 11 per cent, and the nationalist Ataka party on about 7 per cent.
Turnout appeared higher than the low levels forecast, helped by bright sunshine for much of the day, at about 50 per cent.
Some 250 international observers were monitoring the poll, while five opposition parties commissioned an independent vote count, the first since 1990, by an Austrian agency, Sora, which broadly confirmed the exit poll results.
Prosecutors on Sunday said they believed 350,000 illegally printed ballots seized at a printing house a day earlier were part of an attempted large-scale fraud. The printer was owned by a member of Mr Borisov’s Gerb party.
The former premier insisted that prosecutors were involved in “vile insinuation”. The printer had said the ballots had been spoiled during printing.
The central electoral committee and interior ministry said on Sunday no significant violations had been registered during voting.
Leaders of the February protests vowed before the election to come out on to the streets again in another show of anger towards a political class widely seen as corrupt and ineffective.
Among those who turned out to vote, there was little enthusiasm for the main players.
Silvia Stefanova, a teacher, said she was “disappointed by all the big parties here”.
She added: “I was hesitating who to vote for till the last moment, and decided to vote for one of the new, smaller parties.”
But Lubomir Nedev, a truck driver, said he was sticking with Mr Borisov’s party. “Most governments only talked and talked over these past 20 years” since the collapse of communism, he said. “Boiko [Borisov] did not only talk but also performed – we now have new highways and roads, as well as a metro operating in Sofia.”
The February protests made Bulgaria part of an arc of discontent across southern Europe. But anger is especially acute in Bulgaria, where EU membership since 2007 has failed to bring a hoped-for boost to living standards.
While the country has not seen the kind of deep “austerity” spending cuts imposed in neighbouring Romania and Greece, Mr Borisov’s party has kept spending and public deficits on a tight rein, while economic growth since a sharp recession in 2009 has been negligible.
*The title of the article has been changed by the Editorial Staff of Novinite.com
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