INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: SIMEON II CAN BE BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER OR POWER BROKER

Views on BG | June 23, 2001, Saturday // 00:00| Views: | Comments: 0

Sofia - After national elections last weekend, only one thing is clear in Bulgarian politics: The king has won.
But whether Simeon II will take up the mandate that he won and rule directly from the prime minister's office or become a backroom power broker remains an open question. And Simeon, as reticent in victory as he was on the campaign trail, has given no indication of his political plans after the movement he founded and led claimed electoral victory.

"The question for him to decide is whether he will become prime minister," said Nikolai Vasilev, a key economic adviser to Simeon.

The 64-year-old former monarch was exiled in 1946 by the Communists, who established a republic. He became a businessman in Spain, and returned only this April to form a political party that swept to victory in Sunday's elections. He did not run for a seat in Parliament but under Bulgarian law can still become prime minister.

With 99 percent of the vote counted as of Monday, the National Movement for Simeon II had won at least 120 of the Parliament's 240 seats, according to election officials. And the party may yet secure an absolute majority as the remaining ballots are counted. "After today, Bulgaria is different," Simeon said late Sunday. "Together, we are embarking on a path of economic and moral renovation. It will not be an easy road, there will be many hurdles, but we will not give up." He visited his campaign headquarters Monday, but spent a lot of time huddled in his residence. For a political party that did not exist three months ago, the victory was an extraordinary achievement, but one that rests solely on the charisma that the former boy king enjoys in an impoverished country where people are desperate for change.

There is no other outstanding figure in his movement, and if Simeon decides not to take the prime minister's job, it will fuel speculation that his real aim is to abolish the republican system here and restore the monarchy. Moreover, if Simeon rules from the wings it will undermine his electoral promise to establish transparency in government, particularly because any other candidate for prime minister would be seen as no more than his anointed protйgй. "I don't think he knows what he wants to do," an associate of the king said Monday. "But I believe he does want to do what's best for Bulgaria."

Members of Simeon's movement said that even if they win an absolute majority, they are committed to forming a coalition government and would begin negotiations with other parties immediately. "Our position is that there should be a coalition," said Miroslav Sevlievski, one of Simeon's top aides.

The departing center-right government of Prime Minister Ivan Kostov won 18.2 percent of the vote and 51 seats. And although it shares a basic economic philosophy with Simeon - including rapid reform and pursuing membership in the European Union - the party is divided on entering a coalition with a monarch it ridiculed during the campaign and called a liar for refusing to say that he wanted to be restored to his former throne.

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