Boyko Borisov, Bulgaria's new tough-guy leader

28th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

With his close-cropped hair, bullish physique and macho image, Borisov, who holds a black belt in karate, became one of the country's most popular figures even before creating his centre-right GERB party in 2006.

Sofia -- Boyko Borisov, the tough-guy mayor of Sofia who took over Monday as Bulgaria's new prime minister, is a black belt in karate who is relishing the challenge of high office after a humble upbringing.

"People will see in me a man who fights with all his means for them and for the country," the 50-year-old said in a recent interview.

"I am not scared of failure," he told 24 Hours newspaper.

With his close-cropped hair, bullish physique and macho image, Borisov, who holds a black belt in karate, became one of the country's most popular figures even before creating his centre-right GERB party in 2006.

He is a self-made man and proud of it.

"I started from sub-zero and no one can take this from me," he told 24 Hours.

The son of a police officer and a primary school teacher, Borisov graduated from a firefighting and police academy in Sofia before setting up his own security company in 1991, providing protection for Bulgaria's ex-communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, who had been ousted in 1989.

In the mid-1990s, Borisov then became the bodyguard of former king Simeon Saxe Coburg, who had returned to Bulgaria after 50 years in exile.

Working for the two men helped him "comprehend history and the mechanisms of power," Borisov told AFP in a recent interview.

Yet his role model nowadays is German Chancellor Angela Merkel and he said he always worked better with women.

After Saxe Coburg's landslide victory in 2001, Borisov was named chief of staff in the interior ministry.

His plain-spoken manner and appearance at major crime scenes boosted his popularity as a no-nonsense tough guy and in 2004, he was promoted to lieutenant general, the highest possible police rank.

A year later, he quit the interior ministry to run as an independent in Sofia mayoral elections, which he won.

He was re-elected in November 2007, only stepping down to take the premiership on Monday.

His time as mayor was marked by a failure to solve Sofia's severe garbage collection problems and incessant quarrelling with Socialist Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev.

His sharp criticism of the Socialist government won support for his party however, making people feel that he was one of them, analysts said.

Named Man of the Year twice, in 2002 and 2006, Borisov excites crowds at every public event he attends.

As prime minister, he could now face difficulties with a minority government relying on support from right-wing and ultra-nationalist parties, analysts warned.

But he also gained praise in the weeks before the election by naming a strong economic team around him led by World Bank analyst Simeon Djankov, who becomes the new finance minister.

The new premier has already pledged to pull Bulgaria out of the economic crisis, purge the country's endemic corruption, restore Brussels' trust in Sofia and convince the European Commission to unfreeze millions of euros in subsidies, withheld last year over fraud concerns.

AFP/Expatica

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