Bulgaria on the Brink of Elections - a Ribbons and Clubs Combination
Three weeks before Election Day in Bulgaria, the presidential campaign remains a strange, but not unusual, mixture of smear games, scandals and lackluster bids.
The good news is that the leading nominations could be labeled European to some extend – all three have ties with Bulgaria's western partners, are well-known abroad, and speak foreign languages fluently. The flip side of the coin is that this is at the bottom of the appeal list of the average Bulgarian voter. In addition, all three are too closely tied to political parties regardless even of official political endorsement, and too marred by the failures of these parties.
The alleged top runner, the nomination of the ruling, center-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, GERB, party, former Regional Minister, Rosen Plevneliev, is the man, who was great as a member of the cabinet, and the man who never wanted to be president. He was forced to run. He not only looks like that and speaks like that, but has been in the shadows since his name was announced. His nomination was downplayed further by the huge ego of GERB leader and Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, who declared he will be Bulgaria's Head of State during the next term, implying Plevneliev is just a temporary solution and a puppet. Meanwhile, Borisov's Deputy, Interior Minister, and Head of the GERB election headquarters, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, managed to tangle Plevneliev in a scandal where the words bribe and blackmail were mentioned one too many times to the point no one no longer cared about the candidate's innocence
The left-wing candidate, endorsed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP, Ivaylo Kalfin, is soft-spoken, and not with a presence strong enough for an office such as the institution of the President. He shines only through his running mate – vice-presidential candidate, movie and theater star, Stefan Danailov, who is hugely popular among several generations of Bulgarians. In addition, Kalfin is tarnished for being Foreign Minister in the cabinet of the largely "condemned," Socialist-led Three-Way Coalition.
Bulgaria's former and first ever EU Commissioner, Meglena Kuneva, knows all the right words to say, she is intelligent, has manged to stay away from political and/or corruption intrigue and is supported by a large number of Bulgarian intellectuals, however, her campaign has seriously lost speed. She is running as independent, but many cannot forgive her аnd forget her previous strong affiliation with the Three-Way Coalition and the party of former Tsar and PM, Simeon Saxe-Coburg, National Movement for Stability and Prosperity, NMSP, or the fact her banker husband is the son of a member of the former Communist party leadership.
From the other 15, maybe two more are worth mentioning, not because they have a chance of winning, but because they are colorful. The first one is the leader of the far-right, nationalist Ataka party, Volen Siderov, who is important because he is dangerous with his readiness to play with ethnic fire for a few more ballots, and is known for his borderline deranged behavior – screaming, shouting, shoving, and bursting in TV studios to interrupt broadcasts. The other is the most eccentric and lovable candidate for Bulgaria's presidential office, rock musician, Svetlio Vitkov, who is supported by thousands of fans saying he is the only one to not have been engaged in dirty games so far and makes for the sluggish campaign.
Three weeks before Election Day, Bulgarian voters have not been presented with any sound platforms, concrete and detailed programs for the next term in office. There has not been a single televised or otherwise debate between opponents and none has been scheduled so far.
On the backdrop, the country is shaken by unrest over the discontent from the failure of the current cabinet and many others before to deal with crime, corruption, embezzlement of EU funds, and integration of minorities. Rallies at many places have turned into racist outburst against local Roma and clashes with police.
Above all this is a visibly untouched Prime Minister, who keeps cutting ribbons of roads and facilities, which the country does indeed badly need, and an absent Interior Minister, who is running an election campaign.
As a Bulgarian journalist (Ivan Bedrov, Deputy Editor in Chief at Pari Business Daily) wrote on his Facebook wall after Bulgaria's rhythmic gymnastics team won gold at the World Championship (also marred by a scandal) – Bulgaria is a very good place for the ribbons and clubs combination – the ribbons we cut, the clubs we carry with us on the streets.