The candidates in the November 13 run-off of Bulgaria’s 2016 presidential elections, Roumen Radev and Tsetska Tsacheva, will face each other in a live debate on public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television on November 10 at 8.30pm.
With four days left to campaign, counting Tuesday, the camps of two rivals were looking for allies and endorsements – a task that at least, going by public statements by several of those vanquished at the first round on November 6, was no easy one.
November 8 was hardly a good day for Tsacheva, the candidate of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party. Not only did official results of the first round, released by the Central Election Commission, confirm that Bulgarian Socialist Party-backed Radev had outdone her by just more than three percentage points at the first round, but the prospect of any further significant endorsements of Tsacheva before the run-off seemed slim.
Radev, in a television interview with BNT the night before, was asked again about his attitude towards membership of Nato and the EU.
Described in some foreign media reports as “pro-Russian”, the socialist-backed candidate was visibly rattled on election night when pressed at a news conference on this issue.
Speaking to BNT, he was calmer, asserting “Of course, I am for Nato and the EU. Of course, there will be no deviation from that path”.
Radev’s stated position might make him more palatable to some pro-Western Bulgarians, and first-round results appear to show he did take away centre-right voters from GERB and others.
Will it diminish his appeal among the nationalist and far-right voters who may turn out this coming Sunday? They have backed parties that want, at very least, a national referendum on leaving Nato, and tend to the Russophile. Then again, they may tell themselves that Radev is just saying this for show, for votes. In any case, the President constitutionally cannot by himself withdraw Bulgaria from such an alliance, though he can seek to initiate a referendum.
Radev went on to tell BNT that GERB was “panicking and trying to turn their personal loss into a national tragedy”.
“The fact is that they (GERB) lost in the first round and they lost the big cities. They lost young people, educated people, intellectuals, this is the biggest nightmare for them, hence their political impotence. But they cannot understand that this type of behaviour does not work for them,” Radev said. (Fact-check: Radev appears correct about the big cities. Sofia and Plovdiv, for instance, turned out more votes for him than for any other candidate. This is remarkably unusual in cities that traditionally are centre-right strongholds.)
BSP leader Kornelia Ninova, meanwhile, on November 8 distanced herself from the election night statement of support for Radev from the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, saying that her party had not negotiated for support before the first round and would not do so before the second. (Fact-check: Perhaps a lapse of memory on the part of Ninova. The initial plan was that Radev would be a candidate backed by both the BSP and Georgi Purvanov’s ABC. For about a day, he was.)
“We are appealing to all citizens,” Ninova said on Tuesday.
GERB so far has managed to attract only the Reformist Bloc to endorse Tsacheva for the second round, and then that means the faction of the bloc that supports the government, not Radan Kanev’s Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria that opposes it and wants early parliamentary elections.
GERB also cannot count on support from the United Patriots, whose candidate ran third on November 6.
On November 8, Roumyana Buchvarova, a senior GERB figure, currently Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister and formerly the head of an opinion polling agency, conceded to reporters that the vote two days earlier signalled “discontent” and that this had been expressed on votes for Radev.
“Obviously this is a protest vote against the ruling majority,” Buchvarova said.
“I think there are grounds to hear the voice of the citizens,” she said. Asked if the ruling majority would change its policies in the light of the outcome for Tsacheva at the first round, she said that if it was a sign, and was deeper and more categorical at the second round, remained to be seen.
In a November 8 interview with Nova Televizia, Tsacheva reiterated the line that if GERB was to lose out, “let them again elect Oresharski, let’s take the country back where we were two years ago, international isolation, suspended EU funds…a ruined banking system”.
Tsacheva said that behind her opponent stood the BSP and the MRF, which would abandon him as they had done with Oresharski (occupant of the prime minister’s chair in 2013/14, and who resigned after the BSP was trounced in May 2014 European Parliament elections, and after months of continuous public protests demanding the cabinet’s resignation).
She said that before 1989 and since, there had been no other political leader apart from Borissov who had taken responsibility for what was happening in the state.
Of Borissov’s succession of statements about the government resigning in the event of presidential election defeat, which Borissov first said would happen after the first round and later said that this could happen after the second, Tsacheva said: “This is a decision by a responsible political leader. The only one.
“No one but him gave a clear condition – that is the rule, on which I govern with the majority, with our partners in the Reformist Bloc and the majority that supports us in Parliament. If I have no guarantee that I can continue with this successful policy, because they recognise that. Ordinary people recognise that, that what GERB does is not only for members and supporters of GERB. In this sense, the only one who acted with grace is Boiko Borissov.”
Tsacheva said that what she did not understand is that Radev did not realise that as the BSP had put up Oresharski and then abandoned him, and then two years later Oresharski was the presidential candidate of another political party (the MRF), the same might happen to him.
She said that of Radev that “even he does not know with what money his campaign is financed” and if he was honourable and responsible, he should have asked. (Fact-check: Ahead of the first round, Radev, when asked questions about his campaign finance details, said that he did not know.)
Tsacheva said that she had been criticised by GERB election headquarters for her “positive and tolerant campaign”. (Others might call that campaign dreary, unimaginative and boring, but only if they had to write about her speeches every day).
She said that she did not want to campaign with messages that “tickle the senses, but are unrealistic…I would not allow myself to be irresponsible towards voters in this way”.
Meanwhile, elsewhere among those who did not make it to the second round, Vesselin Mareshki, who came fourth, has said only that he does not support anyone, but in the runoff would probably vote “with disgust” for Tsacheva, but only because he preferred Tsacheva’s running mate Vice Admiral Plamen Manushev to Radev’s running mate Iliyana Yotova.
The Plamen Oresharski-Danail Papazov ticket said that it would not support anyone at the second round. That ticket, backed by the MRF, got about 6.6 per cent of the vote, amounting to more than 253 000 people, beating the Reformist Bloc’s Traicho Traikov into sixth place. “We see no difference between the candidates,” the Oresharski ticket said.
Movement 21, whose leader Tatyana Doncheva got about 1.82 per cent of the vote, also said that it would not support either candidate at the run-off.
Doncheva, a former BSP MP, said that it was neither honourable to support the government “nor do I believe that there is a reason to support the oligarchic wing of the BSP”.
Lyutvi Mestan, leader of DOST, the party that was founded as a breakaway from the MRF after Mestan was ousted as MRF leader, again declared for Tsacheva, as it had done before the first round.
This support was “not personal, nor specifically for GERB. It is for Euro-Atlanticism,” Mestan said. “This support was not asked, before even if it is rejected, we will do our civic duty,” he said.