Official campaign period ahead of Bulgaria’s October 5 parliamentary elections begins

Written by on September 5, 2014 in Bulgaria - Comments Off on Official campaign period ahead of Bulgaria’s October 5 parliamentary elections begins

September 5 sees the start of the official campaign period in the run-up to Bulgaria’s ahead-of-term national parliamentary elections on October 5.

Seven coalitions and 18 parties are standing in the elections at national level. Independent candidates are standing in a number of individual constituencies.

In the election, 240 members of Bulgaria’s 43rd National Assembly will be elected. Official figures are that 6 931 855 Bulgarian citizens are entitled to vote.

This is the fourth time that Bulgarians are being called to ballot boxes since the beginning of 2013.

The first was in a referendum on nuclear power in January 2013. That referendum saw a defeat for the campaign in favour of completing the long-stalled Russian-linked Belene nuclear power station project.

This was followed by public protests mobilised around cost-of-living issues, mainly electricity bills, against Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB government, in turn leading to Borissov’s resignation as prime minister after an incident of violence one night in Sofia when police and protesters clashed.

The May 2013 national parliamentary elections, held two months earlier than had initially been intended, saw GERB win the most votes but it found itself in a National Assembly where it had no allies with which to form a government.

A cabinet formed with the support of the second-ranked Bulgarian Socialist Party and with that of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms along with the tacit support of far-right ultra-nationalists Ataka lasted for 14 months.

Within a few weeks of being formed, this cabinet was the subject of widely-supported public protests after the abortive appointment of controversial figure Delyan Peevski as head of the State Agency for National Security. These protests continued daily until the cabinet resigned following a prolonged saga in which the MRF said it should step down in the light of the May 2014 European Parliament election, in which GERB achieved a striking lead while the BSP was handed a sound thrashing.

It is widely expected that on October 5 2014, GERB again will win the largest share of votes.

The start of the official campaign period on September 5 means that a number of rules in the Election Act take effect.

During the course of the month, dissemination of anonymous materials related to the campaign is prohibited.

All media are required to indicate if materials related to the election campaign have been paid for by a contestant in the election.

The Interior Ministry, State Agency for National Security and the Prosecutor’s Office have set up a special unit to monitor breaches of the law during the official campaign period.

GERB already has presented its programme for governance should it be able to form a cabinet after October 5.

The pledges of Borissov’s party include creating a fund for repairing socialist-era blocks of flats, significantly increasing the range of people eligible to receive assistance with their electricity bills and maintaining national taxes unchanged, although municipalities would be able to levy additional taxes up to a two per cent limit.

Borissov said on September 4 that the end of the year would be a difficult period for the next cabinet because of the “hole” in the national budget.

The 42nd National Assembly departed without approving amendments to the budget. The current caretaker cabinet is working on draft amendments to be presented to the next cabinet and in turn, the 43rd National Assembly.

Senior GERB member Lilyana Pavlova, who was regional development minister during Borissov’s 2009/13 government, said that “road and railway infrastructure are part of the cardiovascular system that backs the economy and allows its development. The finalisation of Hemus motorway is a major priority because it is a strategic project.”

But, Pavlova said, construction of roads and motorways is not a goal that is an end in itself. “Construction of this motorway will help us overcome the differences between north and south Bulgaria, Pavlova said.

The Bulgarian Socialist Party, which in the October 5 elections is standing as the “BSP – Left Bulgaria”, has changed its leadership since it was trounced in May 2014.

Now led by former National Assembly Speaker and former interior minister Mihail Mikov, it also has abandoned the “Coalition for Bulgaria” brand under which former leader Sergei Stanishev generally took the party to second place (although sometimes, through circumstances, into government) over more than a decade.

The BSP, which was to formally launch its campaign on the afternoon of September 5 at an event in Sofia, is expected to continue its message of distancing itself from its former ruling axis partner the MRF.

In an interview on television earlier this week, a sample of the kind of message that may be expected in the BSP campaign was heard from former MP Anton Koutev, who said that it was up to voters to decide whether electricity bills would go up.

Under the May 2013-August 2014 cabinet, the regulator forced down electricity prices while the ruling axis waged a campaign against the three foreign-owned energy distributors. Given the sundry woes in Bulgaria’s energy sector, it is likely that the policy of artificially keeping down electricity prices (rejected by critics as a populist measure) would have to be corrected. The caretaker cabinet recently changed the leadership of the energy regulator.

The BSP, which said ahead of its official campaign launch that the event would be low-key with “no song and dance” also will be promising to increase incomes and lower unemployment.

The MRF will be campaigning on a message of Bulgaria needing to achieve stability and responsible political behaviour.

The Reformist Bloc, an alliance of minority centre-right and right-wing parties formed in 2013 and which won one of Bulgaria’s 17 MEP seats in the country’s May 2014 European Parliament elections, will be campaigning on a rule-of-law message.

The bloc has been troubled by internal wrangling over working with Borissov’s GERB in possible forms of coalition – formal or informal – after the October 5 elections.

The Reformist Bloc, which thus far has had no official post of leader, will elect one as the same time it launches its election campaign on September 13.

Ahead of the announcement of the results of surveys by Bulgaria’s more reliable opinion polling agencies, other parties and coalitions seen as having chances of winning some seats in the next National Assembly included the ultra-nationalist Patriotic Front (made up mainly of Ataka rival the National Movement for the Salvation of Bulgaria and the VMRO) and the populist Bulgaria Without Censorship (BWC), headed by former talk show host Nikolai Barekov.

A BWC coalition won two seats in the European Parliament in May, one for Barekov. The other was won by Angel Dzhambazki, who after VMRO quit working with Barekov, is now a candidate for the Patriotic Front in a Sofia constituency.

BWC was the biggest spender by far in the May 2014 European Parliament elections in Bulgaria, which critics attributed at the time to support for Barekov from Corporate Commercial Bank majority shareholder Tsvetan Vassilev (Barekov and Vassilev both deny such relations). This time around, BWC has backing from wealthy business person Hristo Kovachki, whose Lider party otherwise never has won seats in any election.

 

(Photo: Neil Simon via oscepa/flickr.com)

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About the Author

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015).