Bulgaria's former king quits as party chief

7th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

Simeon II was Bulgaria's prime minister from 2001 to 2005 after he returned to Bulgaria following 50 years of exile.

Sofia -- Bulgaria's former king Simeon Saxe Coburg quit as head of his liberal party Monday after failing to secure a seat in parliament in a general election.

"I'm assuming full responsibility by stepping down as party chief," the 72-year-old ex-monarch told a news conference.

Simeon II was Bulgaria's prime minister from 2001 to 2005 after he returned to Bulgaria following 50 years of exile.

His National Movement Simeon II party, later renamed as the National Movement for Stability and Progress (NMSP), lost to the Socialists in the 2005 election, but remained part of the governing coalition.

In Sunday's vote however, the liberals gained just three percent of the vote, short of the 4.0-percent threshold to enter parliament.

"There are many ways of serving your country," said Simeon II, when asked about his future plans. His resignation must be approved at a special congress.

He firmly rejected suggestions that he would return to Spain, where he spent his years of exile.

Crowned king at the age of six after his father Boris III died in 1943, Simeon was deposed by the communists two years later.

Mentioning the name of the boy-king was a taboo during communism. His return from exile in 1996 sparked a furore and made him one of the most popular people in Bulgaria.

He became Europe's first ex-monarch to be elected prime minister. He also signed Bulgaria's accession treaties to join NATO in 2004 and the European Union in 2005.

But Simeon was criticised for not living up to his election promise to raise living standards for Bulgarians.

Bulgaria's Turkish minority party, the Movement for Rights and Freedom (MRF) won additional seats in the election, but will find itself in opposition for the first time in eight years.

The MRF was a junior coalition partner in two governments -- first with the former king in 2001-2005 and then with the outgoing Socialists under Sergey Stanishev.

"I'm not afraid of being in opposition," MRF leader Ahmed Dogan said, pointing to growing support for his party. "The MRF is the only party for which support has actually grown after two consecutive terms in government."

The MRF won 14.47 percent and 38 seats, up from 14 percent and 34 seats in 2005.

Of the 31 seats elected directly for the first time in the 240-seat parliament, MRF was the only party, alongside the winning centre-right GERB, to win five direct mandates.

Analysts said MRF leaders had mobilised support, particularly in rural areas despite the hostility which the MRF faced from other parties, including GERB, during the election campaign, the Alpha Research polling institute suggested.

Ethnic Turks make up 10 percent of Bulgaria's population, a bigger proportion than anywhere else in the EU, and one which many observers feel enabled the Balkan state to avoid ethnic conflicts such as those in the neighbouring countries of the former Yugoslavia.

Nevertheless, anti-Turkish prejudice runs deep in Bulgaria, following five centuries of Ottoman domination between the 14th and the 19th centuries. During the communist era, Turks were forced to change their names to Bulgarian ones.

GERB leader and the man likely to be Bulgaria's next prime minister, Boyko Borisov, insisted Monday that "all Muslims should feel safe" in Bulgaria. And he promised to have "the same attitude towards Christians and Muslims alike."

But others are not so sure.

President Georgy Parvanov expressed regret that "the entire election campaign boiled down to attacks against the MRF." Parvanov nevertheless suggested that "the behaviour of certain MRF leaders" had helped fuel some of the hostility.

Vessela Sergueva/AFP/Expatica

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