Bulgarian Elections 2005: Bulgarian Socialists Claim Victory

SOFIA, Bulgaria (Reuters)
Bulgaria’s opposition Socialists claimed victory over the ruling centrists in Saturday’s elections, but exit polls suggested they may struggle to form a government. Any protracted coalition wrangling between parties could unsettle investors seeking quick economic and social reforms to secure EU entry in 2007 and increase impatience in a general population over poor living standards.

A Gallup exit poll for BTV television gave the ex-communists 32.2 percent of the vote versus 20.5 percent for ex-King Simeon Saxe-Coburg’s ruling National Movement for Simeon II (NMS). Earlier opinion polls had given the Socialists 40 percent, a vote that would have allowed them to form a government quickly. “We have won the elections,” said Socialist deputy leader Rumen Petkov. “But the results are not satisfactory.”

Three other local polling agencies put the Socialists, led by progressive Sergei Stanishev at 30.7-32.1 percent and the NMS at 19.5-21.1 percent. The next government must complete a mountain of difficult reforms under increased scrutiny from Brussels as skepticism over further EU expansion grows after recent French and Dutch rejections of the bloc’s constitution. Although investors have praised Saxe-Coburg’s government as the best since the fall of communism, public discontent over poverty and crime forced the only ex-monarch to second place.

Nationalists rise
Analysts say the surprise emergence of the nationalist Attack party, seen winning 7-7.9 percent and crossing the threshold to parliament, may have undermined them. “The result for Attack is a surpise and has eroded support for the Socialists,” said Kancho Stoichev, an analyst with Gallup. Analysts said the Socialists are expected to seek a coalition with the mostly ethnic-Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) — Saxe-Coburg’s current ruling partner — and deputies from other parties.

“A left-center coalition is more likely,” MRF leader Ahmed Dogan said, apparently throwing his support behind the leftists. The Socialists have not ruled out seeking a grand coalition including the ruling centrists. Saxe-Coburg has made clear he will not join a grouping he does not lead but his party may find another role for him, such as the presidency, or some of his deputies may defect. The Socialists have been eager to show they have changed since they were ousted in 1997 after plunging the country into economic disaster. But despite vowing economic prudence and reforms crucial for EU accession — such as revamping a lumbering judiciary — the Socialists’ plans for more social spending are a bigger risk for the economy, analysts say.

Banished in 1947 at the age of nine by the communists, the former boy-king returned to win a landslide election victory in 2001. He led Bulgaria into NATO and to the threshold of the EU, boosted economic growth to 6 percent and cut unemployment. Despite his achievements, failure to deliver on brash 2001 pledges to make all Bulgarians wealthy in 800 days has angered voters. Bulgaria’s 2004 per capita GDP of 2,498 euros makes it second only to Turkey as the poorest EU member or candidate.

There are many Bulgarians still queuing outside the polling stations in the country despite the official end of the election day, Biser Troyanov, spokesman of the Central Elections Committee. He also pointed out that currently CEC is trying to connect all the regional Elections committees to explore the situation.

At 8 pm the preliminary results were announced with socialist Coalition for Bulgaria garnering 33,7% of the votes, followed by Simeon II National Movement (SIINM) with 21.1% and Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF) – 11.9%. This year’s surprise came from the nationalistic coalition Attack (Ataka), which gathered nearly 9% of the votes.

UDF Leader: We’ll Seek Right-Centre Coalition
We will seek a right-centre coalition in the cabinet to be formed, Nadezhda Mihaylova, leader of United Democratic Forces, said as early exit poll results were announced on the night of June 25.

The right-wing party is among the favorites for entering the 40th parliament of Bulgaria in a close-up margin with the Democrats for Strong Bulgaria of former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov. Nadezhda Mihaylova told Sofia News Agency that the Bulgarian Socialist Party will obviously be unable to form a government of its own and her party will focus on coalescing with other parties of the right and the centre political spectrum. In response to a question whether this desired coalition might involve the party of Ivan Kostov, she said that talks are just to come ahead. Mihaylova stressed also on the “positive fact” that the right-wing election racers have earned totally more votes that the party of Simeon II National Movement.

King’s Party Doesn’t Rule Out New Coalition
The king’s party Simeon II National Movement (SIINM) has not been defeated, Deputy Prime and Transport Minister Nikolay Vassilev said not ruling out the possibility of the forming of a new ruling coalition. The current government was formed by a coalition and if we sum up the percents of the three partners in the coalition the result will equal that of Coalition for Bulgaria, Vassilev pointed out. Vassilev, however, declined to comment on the future coalition members.

Nationalists Turn Fourth Biggest Parliamentary Power
The nationalist coalition Attack, the fist to gain seats in Bulgaria’s Parliament, ranks fourth among election racers, show results after fifty percent of the votes were processed. The Attack (Ataka) coalition, which has been described as a phenomenon and sprang the biggest surprise in the elections, collects 8.9% of the votes.”