Bulgaria’s centre-right UDF elects Karlovo mayor Kabaivanov as new leader

Members of Bulgaria’s centre-right Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) have chosen Karlovo mayor Emil Kabaivanov as the party’s new leader, a move seen as sealing the end of prospects of the UDF returning to its “Blue Coalition” alliance with Ivan Kostov’s Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria (DSB).

The election of Kabaivanov could go down as a footnote in Bulgaria’s post-communist political history, given that the most recent polls give the UDF and DSB, respectively and individually, little to no chance of returning to Parliament in national elections in 2013.

The UDF’s history dates back to its 1989 founding as an anti-communist broad coalition. Under Kostov, it was the government from from 1997 to 2001, when it was trounced at regular elections by former monarch’s Simeon Saxe-Coburg’s party.

Since then, the fortunes of the UDF have been ever-declining. After 2001, it has had a succession of leaders, none of whom have been able to resuscitate it to its former might. Kostov, who all but disappeared from the political scene for two years after his election defeat, later returned with the DSB formed around him.

Recent history has seen the centre-right turf dominated by the current governing party, Boiko Borissov’s GERB, with the Blue Coalition as a minority opposition presence in the National Assembly, Bulgaria’s unicameral Parliament.

Co-led by Kostov and Martin Dimitrov, the latter the fifth UDF leader of the post-Kostov era, the Blue Coalition effectively collapsed in June 2012 when the UDF voted to withdraw from it, prompting Dimitrov’s resignation and the two-round election that now has produced Kabaivanov as the new leader.

Kabaivanov has been seen as the candidate of the anti-Blue Coalition camp. Initial results showed him defeating UDF MP Vanyo Sharkov, the candidate of the pro-Blue Coalition camp.

Interviewed on July 11 by public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television, Kabaivanov said that the UDF needed to make important strides in its internal party strategy and in its messages to Bulgarian citizens.

He said that teamwork should be restored within the UDF, as a guarantee for internal harmony and creativity within the party. Further, internal conflicts in the party, such as those between city and countryside and north and south, had to be ended.

The UDF needed to be able to offer clear answers to Bulgarians on the basic issues, he said – impoverishment and unemployment, the competitiveness of the Bulgarian economy and agriculture, education and health.

“We must work to restore confidence in the UDF,” Kabaivanov said.

He said that the UDF would interact honestly with fellow parties within the centre-right European People’s Party but “we want the UDF to stand up on its own feet,” he said.

(Photo, of Emil Kavaivanov, right, with the UDF’s failed 2011 presidential election candidate Roumen Hristov: sds.bg)




Clive Leviev-Sawyer

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), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.