Bulgaria’s 2016 presidential elections: Roundup, November 10

The two rival candidates in Bulgaria’s November 13 run-off in the 2016 presidential elections, Roumen Radev and Tsetska Tsacheva, agree on a few things. They both prefer wine over other alcoholic drinks, if called on to choose, and both like Bulgaria’s Kamen Donev as an actor.

This much emerged from answers to identical sets of questions presented to Radev and Tsacheva and published by daily 24 Chassa on November 10.

There are nuances: Tsacheva prefers her wine “in good company”. And Radev mentioned De Niro as top of his list of favourite actors. That De Niro, the one who wanted to punch Trump in the face and who in turn was dismissed by Trump as a “terrible actor”. But we knew that it was not good judgment that decided the outcome of the US presidential elections. I digress.

We shall return to the topic of the answers that Bulgarian Socialist Party-backed Radev and GERB candidate Tsacheva gave to 24 Chassa, but the main focus on November 10 was the continuing if Quixotic battle by the warring camps for second-round endorsements. That, and the fact that Radev and Tsacheva were set to face off in a 90-minute live debate on Bulgarian National Television on November 10 at 8.30pm.

In the struggle for endorsements, the BSP-backed candidate, who got the most votes at the first round of the presidential election on November 6, has only the (officially) unsolicited backing of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, among Bulgaria’s more significant political parties.

The ABC party, a minority breakaway party from the BSP, said on November 10 that it was telling its electorate to “vote their conscience”.

Movement 21, another breakaway from the BSP, is refraining from endorsing either candidate. Movement 21 leader Tatyana Doncheva said earlier this week, scathingly: “Tsetska Tsacheva is not going to achieve judicial reform between Wednesday and Friday” and, she added, Radev would hardly pursue the judicial reform that the BSP has opposed for years.

Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party pulled the EU-wide European People’s Party into the fray, with EPP president Joseph Daul issuing a statement calling for second-round support for Tsacheva.

The EPP statement was directed in particular to Radan Kanev’s Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria, which has broken with the centre-right Reformist Bloc to oppose Borissov’s government, dismissed supporting his presidential candidate (or Radev, for that matter), initiated a new right-wing project and called for early parliamentary elections.

Daul said: “After this first round of the presidential elections, I call on the Bulgarian centre-right to unite. All our member parties, which put the interest of Bulgaria first, must come together and gather behind GERB candidates Tsetska Tsacheva and Plamen Manuchev (sic).

“I very much welcome the decision of the Reformist Bloc – including EPP member parties UDF and BCM –  to support centre right candidate Tsacheva, and I call on Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria and its party president, Radan Kanev, to do the same. Our Bulgarian parties must show unity in order to secure a better, European future for Bulgaria’s people,” Daul said.

The EPP leader said that Bulgaria needs a strong president.

He described Tsacheva a hard-working two-time Speaker of the National Assembly; “she is the candidate who will deliver on her electoral promises and secure a pro-European and pro-Nato path for the country”.

Tsacheva had pledged to work for her country’s stability, for national unity and the rule of law, Daul said.

“All three components are much-needed in a country challenged by growing tensions with Russia, the migration crisis, poverty and corruption,” he said.

Daul said that he wanted to emphasise the importance of Bulgaria’s stability.

“The government of Boiko Borissov, GERB and centre-right parties have worked tirelessly to secure a stable, European way forward. Bulgaria is on the right path; stepping out of it would be a dangerous mistake and could have severe consequences,” Daul said.

GERB presidential candidate Tsetska Tsacheva with Prime Minister and GERB leader Boiko Borissov.
GERB presidential candidate Tsetska Tsacheva with Prime Minister and GERB leader Boiko Borissov.

Borissov has staked the future of his government on the November 13 presidential election result. He said on November 7 that if Tsacheva loses, his government would resign, opening the way to early parliamentary elections.

Radev, meanwhile, answering a question from 24 Chassa about whether he chose Nato or Russia, the EU or the Putin project the Eurasian Union, said that membership of the EU and Nato was a strategic choice “that must be upheld”.

But he said that Europhilia did not mean Russophobia.

The role of policy is to establish good relations with all partners, not to choose an enemy, Radev said. “Until we realise that, we are hostages to these simplistic dilemmas, incited by opponents.”

At a BSP rally, on-screen images of vice-presidential candidate Iliyana Yotova, presidential candidate Roumen Radev, and BSP leader Kornelia Ninova.
At a BSP rally, on-screen images of vice-presidential candidate Iliyana Yotova, presidential candidate Roumen Radev, and BSP leader Kornelia Ninova.

Asked who Crimea belonged to, Ukraine or Russia, Radev said that de jure it was Ukrainian but de facto it was Russian. “Its future depends on the will of the people of Crimea.”

In recent months, detractors of incumbent President Rossen Plevneliev, who did not stand for election to a second term, attacked Plevneliev for his straightforward statement that Crimea is Ukraine. (On television this week, a BSP MP attacked Plevneliev for addressing forums outside the country, such as the European Parliament, in English instead of in Bulgarian.)

Tsacheva, presented with the same question about Crimea, gave a one-word answer: Ukraine.

Asked if Bulgaria’s border should be closed to refugees, Radev said that there were border checkpoints open to refugees, but migrants crossed the land border at other points, and these should be closed off. “A refugee and a migrant is not one and the same thing,” he said.

Tsacheva, to the same question, said: “The border should be closed to everyone who wants to cross it illegally”.

Asked what they would change in Bulgaria’s constitution, Radev said that he intended challenging CETA, the EU-Canada trade deal, in the Constitutional Court “because it is inconsistent with the constitution of Bulgaria”, while Tsacheva said “to continue the reform of the judicial system”.

Presented with a (hypothetical) choice of wine, beer, rakiya or whisky, Radev chose wine, and Tsacheva, as noted, also chose wine “in good company”. As to actors, Tsacheva named Alain Delon first. Perhaps she prefers thespians with no track record of threatening to assault obnoxious politicians.

Asked about musical preferences, Radev (53) said “melodic rock” while Tsacheva (58) named Bulat Okudzhava, a Soviet-era singer-songwriter of Georgian-Armenian ancestry.

The Radev and Tsacheva camps have until midnight on November 11 to campaign. Saturday is a “Day of Contemplation” (to the soundtrack of melodic rock or Okudzhava, as the case may be) on which no canvassing is permitted. Voting is from 7am until 8pm on Sunday.



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.