October 21, 2011
On 23 October, as EU leaders will meet for what is expected to be a hectic and inconclusive summit, Bulgaria will hold presidential and local elections.
There are many candidates for the presidential elections, but according to opinion polls three of them have chances to make it for the run off, on 30 October.
Two are well known in Brussels. Meglena Kuneva was a commissioner in the Barroso I team and Ivailo Kalfin is a prominent MEP, vice chair of the Budget Committee. Kuneva is running as independent, in spite of the fact that she is a politician from the NDSV party of former king Simeon Saxe-Cobourg Gotha. Kalfin has no party affiliation, but he is running as the candidate of the Bulgarian Socialist party, the largest opposition force.
The favourite according to polls is the candidate of the ruling centre-righ GERB party, Rossen Plevneliev. A former businessman, he gained popularity as minister of public works in the government of Boyko Borissov, but lacks international experience.
But should one believe polls? Plevneliev carefully avoided TV debates, apparently advised not to compromise his chances against Kalfin and Kuneva, two seasoned politicians. Only one such debate was held, in which Plevneliev made a sorry impression. However, pollsters and the mass press, which is friendly to the government, made sure to present Plevneliev as the winner.
Media freedom is declining since GERB took office. For obscure reasons, one bank (the Corporate Commercial Bank) was given the privilege of running all financial transactions on behalf of the state. The same bank controls a large number of media firms which in exchange provide lip service to the government.
The latest polls say that the run off will be disputed between Plevneliev and Kalfin. Plevneliev is given an advantage, but nothing is certain. On the one hand, Bulgarian sociology has many times before given advantage to the ruling party (Former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov was severely beaten in 2001 elections in spite of sociology saying he was going to win. Also in 2001 Georgi Parvanov, the outgoing president who served two terms, was elected in spite of the fact that polls privileged two other candidates.)
On the other hand, the powerful party Movement of Rights and Freedoms (DPS), which is largely an ethnic party led since its inception in 1989 by Ahmed Dogan, doesn’t have a candidate for president and has not made known its preference.
The ethnic Turkish minority in Bulgaria is known as an extremely disciplined electorate, which casts its vote as instructed by its leader. The vote of several hundred of such voters can certainly make the result tilt. It seems unrealistic that Dogan would give instructions for the first round, but it should be expected that he would state his support for one of the candidates at the run off.
Kalfin has already stated that he would be happy if the DPS electorate would vote for him. Kalfin benefits from the fact that his candidate Vice President is one of the most loved Bulgarian actors Stefan Danailov (see photo), whose aura could be compared to that of Jean Paul Belmondo or Alain Delon in France.
Many commentators in Bulgarians say that these elections are more important than any other, because of the authoritarian tendencies of the ruling GERB party, and the lack of democratic balances in what can be seen as basically an immature society. Vote buying is widespread in Bulgaria and would certainly play a role, especially in the local elections, which are held also on 23 October. Mayors in Bulgaria rule as feudal and frequently amass a huge fortune, in spite of the fact that their salaries are quite modest.
So far, the elections have been marred by ethnic violence and the bombing of the car of a prominent journalist, critical to Borissov. The few critical media outlets relate reports of GERB preparing to manipulate the elections results.
Borissov, a former bodyguard and a black belt in karate, is well known as a sore looser. He has warned that if his candidate was to be beaten, the opposition would press for early elections. In other interviews, he has made known his intention to continue to rule the country as President after the next election, in 2016.
Anything could happen at the Bulgarian elections. Keep reading my blog 😉
P.S. Read what Wikileaks US cables say about candidates.
Update made on 29 Otober, hours before the elctions:
At the first round October 23, Plevneliev got some 40% of the vote, while Kalfin received 29%, making for a difference of some 375,000 votes.
Kuneva came out third with 14% of the vote, while some 15 other candidates received less than 4%.
Ahmed Dogan, leader of the Turkish ethnic DPS, said his electorate would back Kalfin at the second round. Kuneva said she was not going to advise her electorate for whom to vote.
At the first round, DPS voted for mayors, but overall did nor cast their vote for President. In theory, the DPS electorate could make tables turn in favour of Kalfin, as they control largely more than 375,000 votes. But a number of first round non-ethnic Turkish Kalfin voters are expected to look elsewhere precisely because of the DPS vote on the second round.
Hours before the vote, it’s very difficult to make any forecast.