Bulgaria’s 2013 elections: Promises and platforms

Let us not make this an exhaustive exploration of all the platforms and promises of all the parties in the parliamentary elections in Bulgaria, because there is no point.

We shall stick to just two, Boiko Borissov’s GERB and Sergei Stanishev’s Bulgarian Socialist Party-led Coalition for Bulgaria, because at this writing these are the only two parties that could have a chance to be at the centre of a governing coalition – unless a hung parliament propels the country into fresh elections in the early autumn, in which case detail of what the two big players promise in government would be wasted.

A further qualification may be added. In 2005, the less-than-decisive result ended in the tripartite coalition nominally headed by the socialists, whose performance in government had nothing to do with their pre-election platform. In 2009, GERB came to power as part of the ascendancy of Borissov, the campaign was personality-based, predicated on the necessity of ousting the flaccid presence of the tripartite coalition, and offering only the broadest suggestions that in power, a Borissov administration would tackle the economic crisis, fight organised crime and reform the judiciary.

But as the clock ticks away to the polls opening on the morning of May 12, it is worth putting down for the record the promises made, those these have been largely drowned out by the fuzzy cacophony of the eavesdropping controversy. (I hereby publicly assert copyright of the title of a forthcoming book on Bulgarian politics: “White Noise”.)

On the campaign trail, GERB’s senior figures have portrayed their theoretical second term as being one of more infrastructure development, of skilful use of EU funds (with pointed reminders of how useless the socialist-led coalition proved to be at this) and otherwise, a generous smorgasbord of good intentions.

In the final weeks of the campaign, GERB spoke – through the mouth of former economy and energy minister Delyan Dobrev – of the possibilities of how electricity prices could be substantially brought down. As a corollary, former speaker of parliament Tsetska Tsacheva spoke of the economic foolhardiness of proceeding with the Belene nuclear power station project, as the socialists insist they would do. One GERB candidate told an audience in the countryside that proceeding with Belene would reduce Bulgaria to North Korea.

Tsvetan Tsvetanov told audiences that completing the Hemus highway from Sofia to Varna would be a priority for a renewed GERB government. Highways, Tsvetanov argued, were job creators. GERB’s television campaign advert repeats Borissov exhorting the party faithful with the mantra “jobs, jobs, jobs”.

How would GERB get there? According to Tomislav Donchev, former EU funds minister, informed use of EU funds, a balanced budget and “no major catastrophes” would open the way for a Bulgaria with an annual economic growth of four per cent. This growth rate was a “real possibility”, according to Donchev, although the record does not show from when this wonder would commence.

Reform of the education system to meet the needs of the market also has been mentioned by GERB on the campaign trail. So has new stimulus for Bulgarian agriculture through, you guessed it, the improved EU subsidies for agriculture in Bulgaria that are on the way.

Time and again, GERB’s senior campaigners have emphasised that returning Borissov’s party to power would mean “stability” for Bulgaria. This is what Bulgaria’s European partners want to see, the crowds have been told.

In essence, the GERB message has been that it would be a steady hand on the tiller, fuelling the way ahead with EU money. GERB points to its record of building things and using resources available – a marginally more sophisticated way of saying that a vote for it is not a vote for the BSP.

The BSP-led Coalition for Bulgaria set out at the start of the election campaign its “key government priorities for 2013 to 2017”. It is a coherent enough programme, but fatally flawed when it comes to the detail about how some of these “key priorities” would actually be achieved.

The socialists grabbed plenty of headlines with their promise of creating 250 000 new jobs (which in effect would more than halve unemployment in Bulgaria) in a 2013/17 term of office.

How do the socialists get there? “This would be done by creating the conditions for the revival of small and medium businesses, eliminating corruption in procurement (they mean public procurement, tender processes) and reviving the image of Bulgaria as a favourite for foreign investment”.

A socialist government would “permanently reduce youth unemployment” by enabling first jobs and training for graduates. “This measure could become a reality with a number of incentives for small businesses that hire young people to work.”

There would be “elimination and simplification” of regulatory regimes, reduction of administrative fees and the creation of a predictable business environment.

Current tax rates for corporates (10 per cent), dividends (five per cent) and capital gains (zero) would be retained, but the flat tax for individuals would go, to be replaced by a progressive tax system that the socialists claim would have no negative impact on middle-income salary earners.

At the same time, there would be additional capitalisation of the Bulgarian Development Bank, with a view to easing lending to small and medium businesses.

The state would pay its debts to business within 30 days (as it did when it was in power the last time? No? Oh, pardon me asking).

The minimum wage would go up from 310 to 450 leva during the four-year term in office. There would be annual indexation of pensions in line with inflation, growth of insurable earnings, periodic recalculation of old pensions and no change to social insurance and retirement age rules.

Allowances for families with children aged one to two would go up, to the level of the minimum wage, and a system of family taxation introduced in the final two years in office, including rebates where one parent is unemployed (one cannot fail to be enchanted by the idea of a tax break for someone who has no income, bar that of Bulgaria’s rather paltry dole from the state).

To show that it is in the groove with all the tech stuff, the socialist party promises accelerated provision of broadband and the conversion of “all public places in Bulgaria” to free wi-fi zones.

The socialists also promise the “return of statehood”, whatever that may mean.

The manifesto does not include Stanishev’s publicly-stated promise to backtrack on the public smoking ban; if it had, along with that reference to the return of statehood, one might suspect that they had been copy-pasting from the UKIP playbook and running the result through Google Translate.

But to look into that would be paying far too much attention to the campaign trail promises of Bulgaria’s politicians.




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.