With seven weeks to go before the first round of Bulgaria’s mayoral and municipal elections on October 25 2015, the battle lines are already drawn in the country’s five major cities.
In all five major cities – Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Bourgas and Rousse – the incumbent mayors from the party that is the majority partner in the national coalition government, Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB, have been nominated for re-election. Two of the mayors, Yordanka Fandukova of Sofia and Dimitar Nikolov of Bourgas, are deputy leaders of GERB.
And in all five major cities, voters who favour the centre-right of the political spectrum will have at least one alternative, with national government minority partner the Reformist Bloc putting up its own candidate mayors. The five constituent parties of the bloc are registering together for the municipal elections, after resolving an internal squabble about the issue.
In Sofia, mayor Yordanka Fandukova is standing for a third term. She was first elected in 2009, winning a first-round victory with 67 per cent of the vote, and in that election, was backed not only by GERB but also by the Union of Democratic Forces and the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, two of the parties that now form the Reformist Bloc. In 2011, Fandukova again won a first-round victory, with 53 per cent of the vote.
In 2015, Fandukova’s rival candidates that have been named so far are Mihail Mirchev, nominated by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, Vili Lilkov, nominated by the Reformist Bloc, and Yavor Notev, nominated by far-right party Ataka. The nationalist Patriotic Front coalition, Georgi Purvanov’s socialist breakaway ABC and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms are yet to nominate candidates. Nikolai Barekov’s Bulgaria Without Censorship party has nominated Maria Kalenderska.
In Plovdiv, GERB is again backing Ivan Totev, mayor since 2011. He won a narrow second-round victory against Slavcho Atanassov, who at the time was backed by a range of left- and right-wing parties and coalitions.
In 2015, Totev faces a challenge from Zdravko Dimitrov, who recently was expelled from GERB’s parliamentary group for confirming that he would stand for mayor of Plovdiv against the party’s official candidate. Dimitrov has the backing of the Reformist Bloc and, controversially, the very public backing of the head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in the city, Plovdiv Metropolitan Nikolai.
Atanassov is making another run for the mayor’s chair, this time as the nominee of the Patriotic Front. Atanassov was mayor of Plovdiv from 2007 to 2011, at the time nominated by nationalists VMRO (now part of the Patriotic Front) with the support of GERB. Ataka has nominated MP Pavel Shopov while the Union for Plovdiv has nominated Dani Kanazireva.
On the left-wing side of the spectrum, the Bulgarian Socialist Party candidate in Plovdiv is Georgi Gergov, while the ABC candidate is Georgi Ilchev, who cut his teeth politically in the BSP Youth.
In Bulgaria’s main Black Sea city Varna, the GERB candidate to stay on as mayor is Ivan Portnih, also supported by the UDF. Up against Portnih is Chavdar Trifonov, supported by the other four parties of the Reformist Bloc. The BSP candidate is Aneliya Klisarova, who was education minister in 2013/14 ruling axis cabinet of the BSP and MRF.
Also confirming his candidacy is Kiril Yordanov, who was mayor of Varna from 1999 to 2013, who in the 2011 municipal elections switched allegiance from the BSP to GERB. Yordanov was forced out of office in 2013 amid large-scale protests in the city, which also included the self-immolation of Plamen Goranov. Yordanov won a second-round victory in 2011. After Yordanov’s resignation, Portnih, a former hotel manager, gained a second-round victory in July 2013 mayoral by-elections.
In Bourgas on the Black Sea, GERB has nominated Dimitar Nikolov for a third term as mayor. Nikolov won his second term in 2011 with a decisive 70.8 per cent of the vote on first round. However distantly, the runner-up that year was Valeri Simeonov, leader of the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (now part of the Patriotic Front coalition) and owner of the nationalist Skat television channel. In the previous mayoral elections, Nikolov got 42.7 per cent of the vote in the first round, going to a second round against Simeonov, who then was the candidate of Ataka, in the days before the political estrangement of Simeonov and Volen Siderov. Nikolov’s first term was won by a second-round victory with 65.3 per cent of the vote.
In 2015, the BSP has nominated lawyer Evgeni Mosinov to stand against Nikolov in Bourgas.
In the city of Rousse on the Danube, GERB has nominated Plamen Stoilov for a further term as mayor. In 2011, Stoilov won a second-round victory against a candidate who was backed by a number of right-wing parties, including some now part of the Reformist Bloc and others now part of the Patriotic Front. In 2015, the Reformist Bloc’s candidate will be Galin Ganchev, headmaster of the largest school in the city. The BSP is nominating councillor Bozhidar Yotov, while it was expected that the nationalist VMRO would nominate Iskren Veselinov as its candidate for mayor.
(Illustration: During Bulgarian election campaigns, the electorate is reminded, ‘buying and selling votes is a crime’)