Bulgaria's 2015 Local Elections: Has Veliko Tarnovo's Mayor Already Been Appointed?
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.
Following the summaries about the key candidates in Sofia and Plovdiv, the old Bulgarian capital of Veliko Tarnovo comes next - with summaries arranged in random order. The incumbent mayor seems to be confident in his reelection, pointing to the numerous achievements during his first term. However there is one thing, which might hamper to some extent his reelection, namely the unsuccessful bid of Veliko Tarnovo to be selected as 2019 European Capital of Culture.
Eight candidates for mayor and 384 nominees for municipal councillors will be contesting the forthcoming local elections in the city of Veliko Tarnovo on October 25.
This represents a considerable decrease in the number of candidates compared to the last local elections in 2011, when there were 13 candidates for mayor and 540 nominees for municipal councillors, local daily Borba informs.
The candidate of the main ruling party, GERB, is the incumbent mayor Daniel Panov, who will be seeking a re-election to a second term.
The largest opposition party, BSP, nominated municipal councillor Valentin Lambev, while his colleague Miroslav Trifonov is the candidate of the junior coalition partner - the Reformist Bloc (RB).
The coalition Patriots-VMRO nominated former rector of Veliko Tarnovo University Prof. Plamen Legkostup, while Dragosh Metodiev is the candidate of the smallest parliamentary represented party ABV.
The remaining three candidates are nominees of non-parliamentary represented parties and local movements, namely Rumen Dimitrov (“Our City”), Simeon Koev (Movement for Radical Change “Bulgarian Spring”) and Stefan Mihaylov (“Tsarevgrad for Veliko Tarnovo Movement”).
The only independent candidate for mayor, Milen Angelov, will not be contesting the elections as he missed the deadline for registration.
The only foreigner to run in the elections is the Dutch citizen, Jaap van Beelen, who is heading the list for municipal councillor candidates of the Greens.
Daniel Panov (incumbent, GERB)
At the opening of his election campaign, Panov pointed to the visible results achieved during his first term as mayor.
Among these achievements were tens of new playgrounds, sport facilities, parks, parking lots, renovated schools and kindergartens, more than 20 000 square metres of new pavements and nearly 30 kilometres of renovated roads and streets.
He noted that during the new programme period, the municipality will apply for EU funding on improving the sports and transport infrastructure.
According to him, among the significant achievements of his first term were the opening of a branch of the Varna Medical University, the opening of the renovated sports school, the renovation of the summer open-air theatre and the stadium.
He added that during his first term Veliko Tarnovo became one of the most prosperous Bulgarian cities and ranked among the top five in the absorption of EU funds.
Panov revealed that the investments in the municipality in the past four years amounted to BGN 120 M, BGN 50 M of them being private investments.
These funds were invested in the municipal, social, tourist and educational infrastructure.
As a result, Veliko Tarnovo became one of the best Bulgarian cities to live in, winning the title of the "Best city to live in" annual poll of Darik radio and 24 Chasa daily in 2013.
Panov also noted that Veliko Tarnovo is one of the few Bulgarian cities to register growth in its population.
Furthermore, Veliko Tarnovo established itself as the centre of cultural tourism in Bulgaria and the Balkans, the visitors to the city and municipality increasing by 10 % each year.
During his first term, notable tourist sites of major significance to Bulgarian history, such as the Saints Peter and Paul church, the Bishop’s bridge, Trapezitsa fortress and the square in front of Tsarevets fortress, were renovated.
This was coupled with the opening of the first multimedia visitor centre, which recreates the period during which Veliko Tarnovo used to be the capital of Bulgaria.
Valentin Lambev (BSP)
The main priorities of Lambev are: limiting poverty and unemployment; increasing economic and civic activity; improving living and business conditions in Veliko Tarnovo.
The campaign of the Socialists puts the people in the forefront and seeks to find the human face of Veliko Tarnovo.
Lambev is in favour of a balanced budget, greater transparency of the municipality’s revenues and expenditures and more effective and transparent management of EU funds.
He made a commitment to retain the level of local taxes and is firmly against the idea of the finance ministry for their increase.
The Socialist candidate is committed to improving infrastructure and attracting strategic investments.
He calls for the adoption of а new development plan for Veliko Tarnovo as the last one dates back to 2002.
Such a plan will serve as the basis for the development of new transport and communication schemes as well solving the problem with the old military school in the city centre.
Lambev will work towards the greater participation of citizens in the local authority and their involvement in discussions on the strategic development of the municipality.
According to him, the priority in the investment programme of the municipality should be on developing public works in the suburbs and neighbouring settlements.
This will include improving the infrastructure of educational, cultural, sports and social institutions as well as solving the problems with water supply and sewage disposal in the villages.
Lambev also proposes the creation of a centre for temporary accommodation of homeless people.
He vowed to improve and extend the video surveillance at the entry and exit points of the city, in risky areas and near schools.
The Socialist foresees a double increase in municipal funds allocated to youth activities and developing a programme of paid internships in the municipal administration.
Plamen Legkostup (Patriots-VMRO)
Тhe campaign slogan of the Patriots is “intellect and energy”, calling for rational, intelligent, energetic and just government.
They vow to restore Veliko Tarnovo to its due place among the historical, cultural and scientific centres of the world.
Legkostup is to work towards integrating the two universities in the bodies of the municipal administration and local self-government through the creation of a think tank.
Among his other priorities are: introducing new fiscal policy; creating municipal investment fund; pursuing economic patriotism; optimising local taxes; creating municipal business council and electronic municipality.
He also proposed the creation of a municipal security agency and the holding of local referendums on issues such as the fate of the old military school in the city centre and the establishment of hotspots for refugees.
Legkostup is also committed to: developing a modern road infrastructure and a new transport scheme; solving the parking problems; developing school and mass sport and fighting the demographic crisis.
His nomination caused a division between the two main parties constituting the parliamentary represented Patriotic Front, with VMRO backing Legkostup, while NFSB did not lend its support to him.
The debate that did not take place
Panov seems to be firmly convinced in his reelection at the first round, which reportedly was the reason for his refusal to participate in a televised electoral debate on the private bTV station.
This was harshly criticised by the other three candidates participating in the debate – Lambev, Trifonov and Legkostup.
The former rector was most vocal in his criticism, saying that the mayor had already been appointed from Sofia and the outcome of the election was predetermined.
Legkostup identified his main cause as being to stop the brain drain from Veliko Tarnovo and Bulgaria, noting that 4000 people were leaving the municipality on an annual basis.
During the debate, the former rector set out as one of his main goals preventing the exodus of at least 1000 young people each year.
Lambev committed himself to addressing the problems of the theatre, which is the largest employer in the field of culture in the province of Veliko Tarnovo, vowing to put it at the centre of the city’s cultural life.
The Socialist candidate also called for tackling the parking problems by the creation of underground buffer car parks in proximity to the city centre and addressing the lack of municipal bus station.
Lambev is to work towards more street lighting and improving the security of citizens as well as more kindergartens.
Trifonov called for greater transparency in the municipality’s public procurement procedures and concession agreements.
He will work towards more cameras and heightened police presence in the unsafe areas of the city.
Overall, a genuine debate did not take place as one of the main contenders did not participate, while the other candidates did not radically differ in their views.
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