Plovdiv: a Small Economic Miracle with Plummeting Living Standards?
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.
After the summary about key candidates in the capital Sofia, Plovdiv, Buglaria's second-biggest city, comes next - with summaries arranged in random order. Whoever wins will have to prepare the city for 2019, when Plovdiv will be European Capital of Culture along with Italy's Matera. The new Mayor will also have to manage efficiently the consequences of the city's recent economic boom, partly fueled by a revival of IT, outsourcing, and cultural activities - consequences which some candidates suggest are far from being only positive.
Georgi Gergov (BSP)
Georgi Gergov, an entrepreneur who heads the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP)'s organization in Plovdiv, has often described himself as "The Mayor of Change" - which is also the slogan of his campaign.
In his words, it is time for the country's second-largest contributor to GDP to boost income, where Plovdiv is lagging far behind a number of towns and cities across Bulgaria. Plovdiv should use its well-developed infrastructure, its talent pool and its universities to draw investors and open jobs, alongside.
He has repeatedly called on citizens to help him restore Plovdiv's self-confidence as one of Europe's oldest cities.
Gergov has also warned not enough use is being made of EU funding, with an absorption rate of just EUR 486 per person, against the backdrop of cities like the Black Sea port of Burgas where the per capita rate is EUR 1000.
Instead, with systemic mismanagement of revenues at Plovdiv Municipality, the city risks plunging into a debt spiral, with recent loans amounting to BGN 120 M.
Zdravko Dimitrov ("Let's Decide Together" - a civic coalition)
The candidacy of Zdravko Dimitrov, Plovdiv Municipality's Governor between 2007 and 2011, was raised by Let's Decide Together, a center-right coalition supported by the Reformist Bloc, by members of GERB, and other right-leaning parties. Up until mid-July, Dimitrov was a lawmaker with GERB's group in Parliament, but was expelled after deciding to run despite the party's choice to endorse Ivan Totev for a second term in office.
He has voiced his intention not to shift away from the "center-right nature" of governance in Plovdiv, but also to add some new features. A bolstered female presence within the list of municipal councilors, in his words, can guarantee that the administration will move a step closer to voters. The needs of elderly people should be addressed with more care, and citizens should be consulted before any important decision has been taken.
Dimitrov also promises to create a more favourable working environment for artists and all people involved in the city's cultural life, as Plovdiv is preparing to be a European Capital of Culture in 2019.
Ivan Totev (GERB)
Incumbent Ivan Totev, who won the local elections in 2011, is credited with aiding the city in its industrial revival, with favorable conditions for doing business bringing about international investors in Plovdiv and the adjacent Trakia Economic Zone.
What he singled out, in an interview with Kanal 3 TV station, as the city's biggest priority in the next few years, is the preparation for its role as European Capital of Culture in 2019.
"Four years ago Plovdiv didn't have the courage to speak of itself as a city giving young people the opportunity to work in the IT industry," Totev added, downplaying claims and results of some polls which suggest the majority of Plovdiv's citizens perceive employment and income to be their key problems.
He underlined Plovdiv's ranking as one of the few Bulgarian cities with a growing, instead of a shrinking, population.
Totev, reiterating his administration's commitment to finishing a number of infrastructure projects that are already underway, compared Plovdiv to a "construction site".
Slavcho Atanasov (Patriotic Front)
Slavcho Atanasov was Mayor of Plovdiv between 2007 and 2011, raised by the nationalist party VMRO but also backed by center-right GERB (which was in opposition at the time).
Atanasov is now convinced Plovdiv can do fine with lower local taxes that create a more business-friendly environment and boost collection.
An urgent reform, meaning job cuts, is needed in the administration of incumbent Ivan Totev, with "two-thirds of the city budget allocated to cover its expenditures", he argues in his answers to questions asked by Capital Daily. He believes that, by cutting taxes, expenditures, and making public transport cheaper for school and university students, he will be able to turn Plovdiv "again into the welfare city of Bulgaria".
Despite pledging to finish Totev's infrastructure projects involving reconstruction of key boulevards, he opines the emphasis of his municipality should be on streets inside neighborhoods which in many areas need urgent repair.
Atanasov also vows to receive citizens in his cabinet to keep himself in contact with Plovdiv's people and to be more aware of their problems.
In his words, a "smart" parking system will be built by his administration if he is elected that will allow a more efficient use of urban spaces through collapsible, several-storey structures.
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