BBC: EXILED BULGARIAN KING SWEEPS IN

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

Monday, 18 June, 2001, 04:10 GMT 05:10 UK

It is still unclear what role the former king will play

Bulgaria's former king, Simeon II, has won the country's parliamentary elections.
Vote counting continues, but the electoral commission has said that Simeon II's party, the National Movement for Simeon II, has so far gained more than 45% of the vote.

Prime Minister Kostov: "We asked too much of voters"

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov conceded defeat, saying his government had demanded from the Bulgarian people a higher price they were prepared to pay for reforming the economy.

Simeon II, 64, who only settled in Bulgaria this year after more than half a century in exile, promised to create a "clean, transparent` government.

He did not himself stand for parliament, and it is not clear what role he will play in a new coalition administration.

Coalition talks

Under the Bulgarian constitution, Simeon II could become prime minister without being an MP, but analysts have said he may prefer to pull the strings of the government behind the scenes.

Pressed on whether he could be prime minister, Simeon II said: "We are not talking about my political future.

"Something unique and unprecedented has happened.`

King Simeon facts
Born 1937 and ascended to the throne age six
His father was a cousin of England's Queen Victoria
Fled Bulgaria in 1946 after poll abolished monarchy
Visited Bulgaria in 1996 to popular acclaim
Simeon's party is not expected to win an outright majority in Bulgaria's 240-seat parliament and the former king has held out the promise of coalition government to those parties which share his movement's aims.

The BBC's Nick Thorpe in Sofia says the most obvious coalition partners would be the Movement for Rights and Freedoms - which mainly represents Bulgaria's Turkish and Roma communities - and the Union for Democratic Forces, which has formed the government for the past four years.

Prime Minister Kostov said the main reason he lost was that his government was trying simultaneously to stabilise the country after a grave economic crisis in 1996-1997 and carry out reforms.

"We have taken a lot of unpopular decisions and also made mistakes,` Mr Kostov said. "We wanted the voter to pay a higher price than he was prepared to pay.`

Return home

Other former monarchs from Eastern Europe have returned to their homelands since the collapse of communism 11 years ago, but Simeon II is the first to regain political power.

Turnout in the elections for the single-chamber legislature is reported to have been low, with about 50% of the 6.3 million eligible voters taking part.

Simeon II's movement was formed only two months ago by the former monarch who was forced into exile after World War II, and has spent most of his life as a successful businessman in Spain.

He returned to his homeland earlier this year after five decades of exile, to a rapturous welcome.

However Simeon II's conservative and socialist rivals accuse him of populism and empty promises.

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