Ivaylo Kalfin, the Seasoned Politician Facing an Uphill Battle
Novinite publishes profiles of presidential candidates running in the forthcoming elections on November 06.
We continue with Ivaylo Kalfin, a former Foreign Minister and MEP running on the ticket of President (2002-2012) Georgi Parvanov's party.
If CVs were to be compared in the race for Bulgaria's next President, few would fare as well as Ivaylo Kalfin, the candidate of Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABV).
Short of making any endorsement for his candidacy, it would be hard to deny few candidates have the political experience and international training Kalfin does, having served in different periods of his life as a lawmaker, MEP, Labour Minister, Deputy PM, and Foreign Minister.
The 52-year-old speaks Russian, French, English and Spanish. A Bachelor in International Economic Relations in Sofia in 1988, he completed ten years later a Master's program in International Banking at the Loughborough University in the UK. He received training in a number of course he attended between 1992 and 2004 in Austria, the US, Belgium, France, the UK, and South Korea. He was first elected to Parliament in 1994 (an office he retained until the demise of the government in 1997) and got another seat in 1997. The first time he ran on the ticket of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), which a year before the end of his MP term was headed by Georgi Parvanov - a party member since the communist era who would later serve as President (2002-2012) and, two years into his return to BSP after leaving the Presidency, would be expelled from the party, setting up his own political organization.
Kalfin quit the BSP in 1997 and, in his second lawmaker term, represented another left-wing paty until 2000 (when he founds his own movement that would later join hands with the BSP for election purposes). Between 2002 and 2005, he was President Parvanov's secretary on economic issues. In the latter year, when the BSP won the elections and former the controversial "tripartite coalition", he was appointed Deputy PM and Foreign Minister - an office he retained until running at the European Parliament elections in 2009 and winning a MEP seat.
A series of unsuccessful elections followed suit as he entered the race for the presidency in 2011, but was second to incumbent Rosen Plevneliev in the runoff (mustering 47.42 of the vote). In 2014, he led the ticket of Georgi Parvanov's ABV as the latter had announced he would try his movement's chances independently of BSP (triggering his expulsion). Kalfin, however, failed to win a seat as ABV fell short of the 5.88% threshold.
In the government formed after 2014's early elections, Kalfin was given the Labour portfolio as part of ABV's alliance with GERB party of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. He was also one of the four Deputy Prime Ministers and was in charge of demographic policies.
ABV's presidential candidate has singled out education as a key priority
if a "modern society" is to be developed as part of a policy that will stem the mass exodus of Bulgarians looking for work in Western Europe, as a vast part of the unemployed people in Bulgaria are either illiterate or low-skilled.
"I do not accept any argument saying that [an increase in wages] will bring hardship to businesses," he has said at a meeting with one of Bulgaria's big trade unions, calling for an active social dialogue on the issue.
"It is the head of state's job to pose the questions and look for solutions - and do so together with civil society... in parallel with institutions" Focus News Agency quotes him as saying.
Launching his campaign, he has maintained Bulgaria should not rethink its EU and NATO memberships, but rather "add substance" to them.
Kalfin is also one of the candidates who, like the head of ABV himself, call for a stronger presidency that should be the subject of a public debate.
His running mate, Lyubomir Halachev, is a Bulgarian playwright and director whose filmography, made during a four decades long career, includes some 100 documentaries. Halachev chaired the National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts (NATFA) from 2011 to 2015.
Kalfin faces several obstacles
on the road to the Presidency. First comes low support projected for him - at 5.40% of the votes, according to a Market Links poll. A similar result would place him fourth, possibly after Krasimir Karakachanov.
Second is the shadow of Georgi Parvanov, who argued for a long time he could run for a third term, questioning the constitutional text which is generally understood as a restriction for a citizen to serve more than two times as President. Parvanov is waging a battle for domination with the BSP, which is Bulgaria's second-largest party (its got 15.4% of the votes for a new parliament in 2014, while ABV got just 4.2%), and with Kalfin having been among the most loyal ABV members, some experts and media outlets have questioned his chances of remaining independent in his judgment once he gets into the Presidency.
Many have questioned his work as Labour Minister, saying it was conformed to the conservative views of the main ruling GERB party, rather than being left-of-center.
Given the presence of two other left-wing candidacies (one of them, Rumen Radev, being endorsed by the BSP) as an additional obstacle, Kalfin is in for an uphill battle.
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