Bulgarian Elections: Garbage in, Garbage out

Views on BG | May 22, 2011, Sunday // 17:13| Views: | Comments: 0

date: 6/2/2009 8:34

refid: 09SOFIA264

origin: Embassy Sofia

classification: CONFIDENTIAL





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Classified By: Ambassador Nancy McEldowney for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).


1.  (C)  SUMMARY:  Bulgaria is staggering toward the finish

line of a tawdry year-long campaign that has ushered in new

lows in mudslinging and slander.  Neither of the top two

contenders, Sofia Mayor Borissov and Socialist PM Stanishev,

have any chance of winning an absolute majority.  The real

drama will be over their relative margins, as the smaller

parties scramble to compete as coalition partners.  A grand

coalition between Borissov's GERB party and the Socialists is

now the most likely scenario, an outcome that promises

further corruption, lack of vision, and a limited lifespan.

Behind the scenes, President Parvanov is hedging his bets

with contingency planning for a "technocratic" government

that would position him and his business cronies as the

dominant players.  END SUMMARY.


Two Elections, One Campaign



2.  (C)  The European Parliamentary campaign, officially

kicked-off on May 16, has been dominated by domestic rather

than European issues, as the parties jockey for position

before the more important July 5 national race.  Corruption

and the economy have been the main themes of what is

essentially a single, year-long campaign.  There has been

virtually no debate on the issues, and the campaign has

degenerated to personal attacks reaching new lows even for



3.  (C)  The result is that most voters want nothing to do

with the elections and turn-out is expected to reach historic

lows.  This accrues to the direct benefit of protest parties

such as the extreme-nationalist Ataka.  A low turn-out is

also likely to cause the demise of ex-King Simeon's party,

which may drop out of the national election if it fails to

get a seat in the European parliament.


The Main Contenders




the BSP to take first place, but it can make a strong enough

showing to bargain its way into the next government.  The BSP

can claim some real achievements during the last term,

including EU accession and fiscal stability.  But conflicting

interests within the coalition and within the BSP itself

paralyzed structural reform efforts, leaving a mixed

government record that eroded support for the Socialists.

Last year's high-level corruption scandals and subsequent EU

sanctions brought BSP ratings to new lows.  Despite internal

quarrels, the BSP is presenting a united front for the

elections and, following the advice of its U.S. consultancy

firm Greenberg Carville Shrum (GCS), has made Borissov's

personality the key issue in their predominantly negative




(GERB): With a roughly 10-percent lead over BSP, GERB will

win the largest share of votes but not a majority and will

have to find partners to form a government.  Though it calls

itself center-right and uses pro-Western rhetoric, the party

is really the one-man show of its founder and leader Boyko

Borissov, former Interior Ministry Chief Secretary and

bodyguard to Todor Zhivkov.  Borissov's mixed record at the

Ministry, alleged past ties with underworld figures, and

unimpressive Sofia city management have not undermined his

popularity.  His strongest weapons are his straight talk and

tough-guy personality.  Campaigning on the slogan "Let's Show

that Bulgaria Can," GERB vows greater transparency in policy

making and swift actions against corruption.  But lacking a

plan and a seasoned team of policy experts to implement it,

and saddled with Borissov's erratic and autocratic leadership

style, GERB will find it hard to seize the reigns of

leadership should it come to power.  GERB's preferred

coalition partner would be the Blue Coalition, which could

provide badly needed experienced personnel.


Ataka and MRP: Each Other's Best Enemy




analysts say Ataka and MRF need each other to frighten their

constituents into voting.  The MRF enjoys solid support from

Bulgaria's ethnic Turkish minority.  Its ability to

consistently deliver the ethnic Turkish vote gives it

influence disproportionate to its size, especially when

turnout is low.  MRF's autocratic leader, Ahmed Dogan, is

credited with keeping ethnic peace during the transition but

now uses the party as a vehicle for money-making.  The

party's alleged abuse of EU funds in MRF-controlled


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ministries are major factors in the party's negative public

image and the current government's low approval ratings.  MRF

will return to parliament with roughly the same numbers,

possibly more if turnout is low.  But this year it may have

to compete for its past role as kingmaker with Ataka or OLJ.


7.  (SBU)  ATAKA: The surprise success of the 2005

parliamentary elections, Ataka continues to attract

extremists from the left and right, former army and security

officers, and those embittered by the transition to a market

economy.  The party's rhetoric is anti-Semitic, anti-NATO and

EU, anti-U.S., anti-government and anti-minority (ethnic

Turks and Roma).  Ataka is the only party to use an EU issue

in its campaign: it is against allowing Turkey to join the

EU.  High profile scandals centered on the autocratic leader

Volen Siderov have not undermined electoral support.  Polling

at about 10 percent, Ataka is certain to return to the

European and national parliaments.  If not acceptable as a

coalition partner, it may still play kingmaker offering

informal support to a minority government.


Lucky to Cross the Threshold



8.  (SBU)  THE BLUE COALITION: UDF and DSB are remnants of

the once powerful Union of Democratic Forces that led

post-communist changes in Bulgaria.  Formed last March, the

Blue alliance is a last-ditch attempt to save the genuine

center-right, which has become marginalized by corruption

scandals and

ego clashes, many surrounding ex-PM Ivan Kostov.  The parties

hope their reluctant and belated union will regain the

center-right voters who have stopped going to the polls or

defected to GERB.  If they cross the parliamentary threshold,

they can hope to enter government in coalition with Mayor

Borrisov's GERB.  But the center-right campaign is dogged by

a high profile legal battle over court registration.  UDF

leaders blame their troubles on court manipulation by the

Socialists and hope the ongoing controversy will motivate

center-right voters to go to the polls.



(NMS): The party of former King Simeon has been declining

steadily since its defeat in the 2005 election.  To stay in

government the party joined the BSP as a junior partner in

the current ruling coalition, a move that further eroded its

core support.  Its ratings are now below the margin of error.


10.  (C)  ORDER, LAW AND JUSTICE (OLJ): A new player on the

domestic political scene, OLJ is centered on Yane Yanev,

dubbed the clown of Bulgarian politics.  Yanev rose to

prominence in recent months by outrageous media claims.

Yanev has found enough cash from unclear sources to bankroll

top flight consultants for his campaign under the motto Let's

Stop Corruption.  OLJ relies on crude populist rhetoric

similar to that of GERB and Ataka.  Most analysts believe

Yanev is a creation of BSP circles designed to take votes

away from GERB and Ataka.  Yanev claims OLJ has 38,000

member and a national organization.  But lacking Borisso's

charisma and Siderov's drive, there are alread signs his

popularity has peaked.


11.  (C)  LADER: The business party of energy oligarch

Hriso Kovachki had momentum several months ago when seeral

tiny but respectable center-right parties jined its Forward

coalition.  But after a falling ut with these partners,

Leader is again alone an its polling numbers are back within

the margin f error.  LEADER should not be counted out, given

its vote-buying success in last year's local elecions and

talk of a reconstituted coalition in time for the national



And If They Cannot Form a Government



12.  (C)  If the parties cannot form a government there are

two options.  The President may appoint a caretaker

government and schedule new elections within two months.

Most parties believe results of a second election would not

differ from the first and so would rather avoid this option.

The second option, which has been gathering increasing

attention, is a government of technocrats or well-connected

business people, a list of experts acceptable to all sides

and approved by a majority of the new parliament.  Though the

parties -- via the parliament -- approve the list of

ministers, the selection process is outside normal party

procedure and not transparent, allowing more outside

influence.  Bulgaria had one previous Program Government,

formed in 1992, an ineffective and highly corrupt entity

widely believed to do the bidding of a major organized crime

group.  The idea of such a government is not popular with the


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public or parties, but President Parvanov and business

interests related to him are promoting the idea as a way to

increase their own influence.  The parties may find it

appealing to let a technocrat government take the blame for

the effects of the world financial crisis, expected to hit

with full force later this year.




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