FINANCIAL TIMES: BULGARIA’S EX-KING HAILS POLL VICTORY

Politics | June 18, 2001, Monday // 00:00

By Phelim McAleer and Theodor Troev in Sofia
Published: June 17 2001 18:36GMT
Last Updated: June 17 2001 22:03GMT

Bulgaria's former king last night said the country was on a new road of spiritual renewal after the political grouping he formed less than three months ago swept to power in a general election.

The victory, with a former king winning a democratic mandate, is unprecedented in modern Europe.

Early results suggested the King Simeon II National Movement will receive 43 per cent of the vote. If a small youth-oriented party is eliminated, it may even secure an absolute majority.

However the king reiterated his pre-election pledge to enter into a coalition with those politicians who shared the movement's principles. These included stable economic growth, quicker progress towards the European Union and Nato, anti-corruption and a stable legislative framework.

`The road we take together will not be easy; there will be lots of barriers,` he added.

The governing centre-right Union for Democratic Forces that has pursued a reformist programme for the past four years appears to have suffered for failing to translate its reforms into a better standard of living for the country's 8m people.

The average salary in Bulgaria is around $100 a month and unemployment is at 18 per cent.

According to the early results the UDF will see their vote cut in half and are set to receive 18 per cent of the vote. The former communist Bulgarian Socialist party has also taken 18 per cent of the vote, according to the early indications.

The king's likely coalition partners are the UDF administration, either as an official bloc or after a split, and the ethnic Turk party, which is set to receive 6.5 per cent of the vote.

The King has transformed the Bulgarian political scene since he announced his participation in April. A boy king who was deposed by the Communists in 1946, King Simeon spent most of his adult life as a businessman in Spain. He has promised Bulgarians they will notice a change for the better within 800 days of his administration taking over.

King Simeon, aged 64, has promised to accelerate the reform process including privatisation and his entry into politics has inspired a number of western-based Bulgarian economists to return. They are expected to provide key personnel in the incoming administration.

The king's economic programme also includes plans to cut taxes and public spending and a target of zero public borrowing.

The count is not expected to finish until Wednesday.

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