Varna Braces for Vote As Its 'Black Sea Capital' Image Is Being Challenged
Ahead of local elections Bulgaria is to hold on Sunday, Novinite is offering short summaries about key candidates in the country'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.
The mayor's office in Varna, the third-largest city in Bulgaria, will be a particularly contested one. In a region where allegations have been hurled for years about politicians' connections to certain business circles, people are becoming increasingly disgruntled with sluggish economic growth and a growing income gap with Burgas, another Black Sea city located about 90 km to the south. The current administration says problems were "inherited" from predecessors and their purportedly murky business ties. Rival retort that the incumbent and his team are no different.
Summaries about the candidates and their respective promises are arranged in random order.
Danail Papazov (Life for Varna Coalition)
Papazov was CEO at Port of Varna between 2001 and 2013. Between May 2013 and July 2014, he was Transport Minister in the socialist-liberal government of Plamen Oresharski.
Drawing investment (particularly into the development of e-services) to retain young people, using energy efficiency to boost food production, and several infrastructure projects - these are the three basic priorities he has repeatedly pointed out.
On tourism in Varna, he believes it should be up to businesses to decide who is most suitable to oversee tourism at the municipality. In his words, tourism to Varna and to the adjacent area should not be reduced to leisure trips to the sea, neglecting other forms such as "cultural, historic, sports, congress" tourism, Mediapool news website quotes him as saying.
Papazov says he would also reduce the number of Deputy Mayors and try to distribute portfolios more efficiently and would embark on reshuffles at the administration to end the practice of appointing "the same people" regardless of which party or coalition dominates it. He would demand an audit at the municipality to study all contracts signed over the past years. Public procurement - as well as the municipal budget which is often allocated to unnecessarily expensive projects - should be managed more efficiently, Papazov on Thursday told Focus News Agency.
Papazov has vowed to organize regular "outdoor" reception sessions to meet with citizens in Varna's neighborhoods to make himself familiar with the problems of places they live in.
"For me it will be good enough if the city has an incentive to advance further, if more people find a job, if salaries go up, if you can go along a sidewalk pushing a stroller..." he told Capital daily.
Aneliya Klisarova (BSP)
Aneliya Klisarova, a former Education Minister in the 2013-2014 cabinet (the same one where Papazov was in charge of Transport), has been endorsed by both the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Ekoglasnost political club.
She headed the city's Medical University between 2004 and 2013, and has often stressed that two faculties - of Dental Medicine and Pharmacy - were built under her tenure. Now, she points to an e-platform, one that will allow citizens to take part in decision-making and to "become the 52nd municipal councilor", as the man large-scale project she is intending to pursue if elected.
Unemployment, lack of long-term certainly about the future, and education are the three areas where most work is needed, she believes. An investment into hi-tech industries and boosting innovation, along with moves to bring tourism back on its feet, are measures which Klisarova maintains will address these problems.
As a measure to boost municipal revenues, she suggests some activities should be assigned to municipal companies to cut costs and apply stricter control, instead of working with "companies that do not even pay their taxes to Varna municipality".
Ivan Portnih (GERB, incumbent)
Incumbent Ivan Portnih won the early local elections in 2013 on GERB's ticket. He argues it will take a lot of time to deal with the legacy of Kiril Yordanov, his long-serving predecessor who stepped down in March 2013 amid protests triggered by the self-immolation of a 38-year-old man in front of the municipality.
Portnih says some of the concession contracts, sealed more than a decade ago, are outdated in their requirements to companies and do not allow for a higher quality of services offered to citizens. The sewage system, either left to disrepair, unfinished or (in some neighborhoods) completely absent, is one of the top priorities for his administration and will remain one if the is reelected, with 16 sewage projects underway.
Citing his team's record with EU funding (about BGN 300 M drawn into the city in two years, a sum he calls "unprecedented"), he vows to adhere to the policy of fiscal control he has been implementing for two years, also boosting the collection of local taxes and receivables from companies and natural persons.
"Our ambition for the next term is that the change should reach every apartment block, every home," Focus News Agency quotes him as saying.
Portnih maintains his administration has already made substantial progress with e-services, working to increase the number of services on offer and digitalizing the municipal archive, also allowing for public procurement data to be accessible online.
Chavdar Trifonov (endorsed by Coalition Reformists and Patriots - the Solution for Varna)
In Varna, right-wing Reformist Bloc and nationalist Patriotic Front (the first being a coalition partner, the second supporting the cabinet) have put forward the candidacy of Chavdar Trifonov - an entrepreneur of no political background who spent 15 years in the business field.
Trifonov has called for an analysis of municipal expenditures to see where they can be managed more efficiently, also using public-private partnerships and applying for and absorbing more funds under EU operational programs to boost Varna's growth. Another measure to this end will be to retain 2% of personal income and corporate taxes, collected by the central budget, within the municipalities.
Basic problems in some of the neighborhoods, such as access to drinking water, should be solved in some of the more neglected neighborhoods, Trifonov warned in a Q&A session for Capital.bg.
In Trifonov's opinion, large cultural and hi-tech projects are both of urgent need in Varna. "My dream is that a technological park like the one being constructed now in Sofia [Sofia Tech Park]. We must also do it in Varna. I know where its place is, I have imagined it many times at Varna lake, on a specific place." However, large-scale projects should not be prioritized over result-oriented investment anymore, as previous administrations did, daily Trud quotes him as saying at a press conference.
Digitalization of both services and day-to-day work at the municipality itself is something he says is of key importance to opening it up to citizens and businesses alike.
On infrastructure, he opines a road project aimed at building a ringroad should be "revived" to help divert traffic from the city center.
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