If anyone believes the promises of sundry parties ahead of Bulgaria’s March 2017 early parliamentary elections, they must already be fantasising about what they will do with all the new-found wealth that lies ahead.
Most major parties and coalitions, including those with a fair chance of winning seats in the 44th National Assembly, are emphasising promises of increasing minimum salaries, pensions and other goodies.
Boiko Borissov’s GERB, in a shift of emphasis from its tradition of underlining its achievements in infrastructure – a hoary mantra that seems by now to have little to no resonance with Bulgaria’s electorate – is promising that if given another four years in government, it will achieve an increase in the average salary to 1500 leva. If that came true, it would be an increase by half.
GERB is pledging to leave the 10 per cent individual and corporate tax rate untouched. It also promises to double teachers’ salaries.
The main rival of Borissov’s party, Kornelia Ninova’s Bulgarian Socialist Party, says that if gets to run the country, its four-year term will see economic growth of no less than 12 per cent. Young families wanting to buy a home will get interest-free loans, there will be tax breaks for young business people, but those who declare an annual income of more than 120 000 leva will face a 20 per cent tax rate.
The nationalist United Patriots, a coalition based mainly around three far-right and ultra-nationalist parties, is promising an increase of the minimum pension to 300 leva and hikes in other pension brackets. Mainly, however, the United Patriots coalition is emphasising its signature issues – tough action against illegal migration, action against conventional crime and resolving Bulgaria’s demographic crisis.
Business person Venelin Mareshki, best known in the country for his cut-price pharmacies and fuel outlets, is also promising to increase minimum pensions and to up the minimum wage to 600 leva, from its January 2017 level of 460 leva.
Radan Kanev’s New Republic platform promises to increase public and private sector pay by 50 per cent over four years, an average salary of 700 euro, average new pensions from 700 leva and existing pensions at 500 leva, scrapping the “weekend tax” on after-hours usage of company property, and reducing to nine per cent the value-added tax on basic foods, medicines and books.
New Republic, in power, would achieve economic growth of six to per cent through reforms and given SMEs the freedom to develop, or so Kanev’s platform promises.
The centre-right Reformist Bloc coalition has highlighted a promise to restrict welfare benefits for unemployment for people “who have not fulfilled their constitutional obligation to educate themselves”. This is, in effect, a dog-whistle reference to Roma Bulgarians – a community normally targeted for penalties by ultra-nationalists, on whom apparently the Reformists want to steal a march.
The Reformist Bloc, however, has dismissed promises such as those made by GERB and the BSP about pensions and minimum salaries as populist. The bloc’s Anton Trenchev said that these parties were reducing the elections to an open-bid auction.
The Movement for Rights and Freedoms’ Mustafa Karadaya also dismissed what he called “a space race of populism”, saying that his party would not be joining in.
Hristo Ivanov’s Yes Bulgaria is among the few parties not to headline promises of affluence, instead emphasising a drive for judicial reform and against corruption, saying that these are essential first steps for the country to achieve genuine development.
March 26 will tell whether, in a country customarily described in international reports with the cliche of being the EU’s poorest, the electorate vote with their pockets. It should also not be forgotten that a series of polls suggest that Bulgarians accord their politicians little credibility.
(Photo of the National Assembly in Sofia: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)