Hollow election victory for Bulgarian tough guy

6th October 2014, Comments 0 comments

Bulgaria looked set Monday for more political uncertainty after strongman ex-premier Boyko Borisov fell short of a majority in elections for the troubled country's third government in less than two years.

Borisov, who only 20 months ago resigned as premier of the European Union's poorest country, saw his right-wing GERB party come first but with just 32.6 percent of the vote, according to official results based on 94 percent of votes.

Even though this will give GERB only around 90 seats in parliament, 31 short of an absolute majority, karate black belt Borisov said late Sunday he would still embark on the challenging task of forming a government.

"I want to govern, in person," the burly former fireman and bodyguard Borisov told reporters, calling on other party leaders to take time to think "carefully" before ruling out working with him.

The "dark scenario" alternative, the 55-year-old added in dramatic fashion, would be "new elections" and "bankruptcy" for the southeastern European country.

In second place were the Socialists on 15.3 percent, giving them an estimated 36-42 seats, closely followed by the Turkish minority party MRF on 35-39 seats. Both backed the previous technocrat government that collapsed in July.

Reducing the number of seats for the big parties and making the formation of a government even more difficult, four or five other parties appeared to have cleared the four-percent hurdle to enter what will be a highly fragmented parliament.

- Winter of discontent -

The new government, assuming it can be formed, will have its work cut out improving the sluggish economy, implementing unpopular reforms and tackling corruption, cronyism and organised crime.

The average monthly salary in this Balkan country of 7.4 million is the equivalent of 400 euros ($500), and seven years after joining the EU every fifth household lives below the poverty line.

Dark clouds hang over Bulgaria's financial system with the country's fourth-biggest lender on the brink of collapse and accounts blocked since June, raising memories of 1996-7 when 14 Bulgarian banks collapsed.

Undermining faith in democracy in ex-communist Bulgaria -- and earning it criticism from Brussels -- is the perception that members of a well-connected clique are still lining their pockets and are above the law.

Anger at such corruption and poverty erupted in nationwide protests that saw several people die after setting themselves on fire two winters ago.

Borisov was in government at the time, resigning in February 2013.

The subsequent technocrat government installed by the Socialists and the MRF fared little better, and after 14 months of almost constant demonstrations it too threw in the towel in July, paving the way for this latest election.

For analyst Vassil Tonchev, head of the Sova-Harris institute, the "only solution" now will be a sort of grand coalition involving Borisov's party, the Socialists and several others.

"There are unpopular decisions that need to be taken. Public opinion will accept a government like this in the hope that it can stabilise the situation. It needs to be formed with a clear programme and for a limited period of time," Tonchev told AFP.

"It is the only option. Anything else would lead to chaos," Tonchev said.

The new government also faces the delicate task of trying to keep happy both Moscow, its traditional ally and its main supplier of gas, and Brussels, the source of much-needed development aid.

In particular Sofia will have to decide whether to resume construction of its section of Russia's South Stream gas pipeline, which Bulgaria suspended in June under Western pressure due to the Ukraine crisis.


© 2014 AFP

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