Meglena Kuneva - Now Out to Conquer Bulgaria's Presidency

Novinite Insider » EDITORIAL | Author: Irina Samokovska |June 10, 2011, Friday // 18:27
Bulgaria: Meglena Kuneva - Now Out to Conquer Bulgaria's Presidency

As Bulgaria has started gearing up for the presidential elections in the fall of 2011, supporters of Meglena Kuneva, former EU Commissioner and Bulgarian Minister of EU Affairs, are facing both good news and bad news.

The good news is that if you are a Bulgarian citizen who happens to like Meglena Kuneva, she has just given you the chance to support her at the upcoming 2011 presidential elections.

The bad news for Kuneva's fans is that the extensive media coverage she has been getting has started to expose previously unnoticed defects.

Her being an official presidential candidate now, she will have to think at least twice before she speaks in public, given that she has at least two types of audiences to cater to. And the two-stage thinking will have to appear coherent and cohesive, rather than a costume change act.

The week starting June 6 was the week of Meglena Kuneva. The week before that was the week of Bulgarian nationalist leader Volen Siderov. The former top EU official managed to steal headlines from the eccentric leader of far-right party Ataka, who stirred a spate of clashes centered on ethnic and religious intolerance in a relatively short period of time.

Kuneva and Siderov, the only two certain presidential hopefuls at this stage, have chosen diametrically opposed strategies for drumming up public support. Siderov has been trying to summon followers through hate speech and provocations. Kuneva has opted for well-dressed, well-mannered and well-spoken public appearances.

Bulgaria's 2011 presidential campaign has finally been declared open, with the first two contestants daring on stage. Time to pull out the score books!

What are Meglena Kuneva's strong points?

I associate Meglena Kuneva with hope. Bulgaria's long-awaited EU accession was brought to us by the smartly dressed, forever document-folder-holding figure of Kuneva, chief negotiator in charge of membership talks, and then-Foreign Minister and Atlantic Club President Solomon Passy.

Kuneva, alongside Passy, was the face of Bulgaria's EU accession- a solemn rite of passage into what was believed to be an environment of freedom, democracy, open-mindedness and the rule of law.

After steering Bulgaria into the EU, Kuneva was elected EU Commissioner for Consumer Protection. She started building an international career of a successful diplomat.

If she wins the forthcoming presidential vote, Bulgaria's first EU Commissioner will also be Bulgaria's first female head of state. The country's image abroad is in a desperate need of a touch of grace. Being a Bulgarian, I want to cut the representational link between my homeland and pepper-mouthed footballers. Or dramatically neglected, though "remarkably talented", footballers! Enough with the footballers!

As a Bulgarian, I also want to escape from being associated with thuggish, heavy-handed rulers, swaggering around like mafia bosses. I want to be represented by a person of refined manners who behaves European.

Another reason Kuneva deserves praise is that she is a highly-educated person, who, mark my words, is not afraid of being such. The former EU Commissioner is not anxious about her excellent academic record interfering with her connection to the ordinary voters. The opposite of that would be a prominent current Bulgarian politician who has shied away from learning English for so many years in a bid to stay people-friendly. Time will tell if the "man of the people" can be ousted or downplayed by the "candidate of the citizens".

Meglena Kuneva is a pro-Western figure with a fine international reputation. Bulgaria needs to be represented by a recognizable person who upholds European values and does not aim to blindly appease U.S or Russian interests.

Last but not least, Kuneva is trying to stay in step with current global trends. She has Facebook and Twitter accounts and a regularly updated website. On a daily basis, she uses Facebook to ask questions (at times annoyingly rhetorical, but still...), stir up discussions, share an opinion or express appreciation. And, as people around the world learned recently, the power of social networks as communication platforms is never again to be underestimated.

Where is Meglena Kuneva failing?

What appears to be turning into her major flaw is her exhausted rhetoric. The ex EU Commissioner has finely honed public speaking skills on which she tends to over-rely. Being eloquent is one thing, being non-committal is quite another thing.

Kuneva likes to play her populist card by answering wh-questions with "man on the street" stories. Asked about why she had decided to run for president, she said "I saw disheartened people on the street. "We are living a tough life", they said". Now, if I were that "small man", I would not feеl comfortable about being dragged around as some sort of a scarecrow.

Kuneva needs to start making concrete commitments and to stop being non-confrontational. Refraining from mud-slinging during election time is commendable, but refusing to provide personal comments on the current government, the president, etc. is classic avoidance behavior. She must stop using her non-partisan presidential bid as a hiding place.

Her frantic insistence on support from "the citizens" needs to be replaced by extensive comments on a list of specific goals. The citizens want to know more than the fact that a change of course will be taking place! The citizens want to know the geographical coordinates of the next destination.

Another major disappointment for supporters of Kuneva was that she chose a late-night evening talk show to first present her presidential candidacy. The host of the show, Slavi Trifonov, is far from being an uncontroversial figure in Bulgarian public space. He gained popularity in the late 90s when he took an active part in the protests that toppled the socialist government. Being a star of the transition years, Trifonov's rebellious spirit started to wear out, turning the show from a platform for arguments and interviews with exciting guests into a promotional program for aspiring pop-folk singers. What type of audience exactly did Kuneva believe she was reaching?

To sum up, Bulgarians will do well to start following closely Kuneva's words and actions. She may very well be the next - and first female – President of Bulgaria.

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Tags: Meglena Kuneva, 2011 elections, Presidential elections, Volen Siderov, EU Commissioner

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