Bulgaria’s 2019 local elections: Who will be the next mayor of Plovdiv?

Perhaps it may be an annoyance to 12 of the 14 candidates to be the next mayor of Bulgaria’s city of Plovdiv that a poll by the reputable Alpha Research agency, released soon before the official election campaign period, suggests that they need not bother.

That poll, done among a representative sample in people’s homes in standardised face-to-face interviews, shows the candidate of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party, Zdravko Dimitrov, with 27.2 per cent support, with his nationalist rival Slavcho Atanassov close behind at 23.5 per cent.

The distance to the third-ranked candidate is a yawning gulf; the Union of Plovdiv’s Dani Kanazireva has about five per cent support and Democratic Bulgaria’s Atanas Kostov about 2.6 per cent.

Kausa Plovdiv’s Nikolai Buhalov has 1.9 per cent and Movement for Rights and Freedoms mayoral candidate Milen Ivanov one per cent, with the other eight all below one per cent.

Still, elections in Bulgaria’s second city Plovdiv seldom fail to be interesting, and at least if the poll by Alpha Research is correct, we may face nights as long as those in 2015 when GERB’s Ivan Totev and Slavcho Atanassov were duelling for votes at a tightly-contested second round.

Such was that contest, four years ago, that it was left to the Administrative Court in Plovdiv to confirm the victory of Totev, by a count of about 1000 votes.

Totev is not standing for re-election in autumn 2019. The two candidates most likely to end in a second-round battle to succeed him as mayor have both been his rivals before.

Now Plovdiv regional governor, in 2015 Zdravko Dimitrov broke GERB party ranks to stand against Totev, who was the official candidate of Borissov’s party. That earned Dimitrov expulsion from the GERB parliamentary group, but now rehabilitated, this time round he is the party’s official candidate. Totev, meanwhile, remains GERB party leader in Plovdiv; local media are watching the dynamic between the two on the campaign trail with some interest.

Atanassov has it in common with Totev that he is a former mayor of Plovdiv, from 2007 to 2011. His 2007 election was won on a ticket backed by the nationalist VMRO, GERB and some other right-wing formations. Though he had GERB’s support, in 2008 he fired his deputy mayor from that party. In the 2011 elections, GERB put up Totev – who for the past two years had been Plovdiv regional governor – up against Atanassov, defeating him.

The latest round in this game of musical mayoral (and gubernatorial) chairs comes against the background of the withdrawal of Totev, officially because he wants a rest and less officially because GERB let it be known to him that he would not have its endorsement. Although Totev has presided over Plovdiv’s status as European Capital of Culture 2019, there have been adverse comments about the handling of the city’s preparations – even into the year itself – while he also has been accused of irregularities in connection with projects such as the city’s zoo; he denies wrongdoing.

Atanassov is standing on a ticket backed by two of the three constituent parties of the national government’s troubled minority partner, the United Patriots – the VMRO and the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria. Plovdiv has something of a record of housing a constituency of nationalist voters, which is what makes Atanassov a real contender.

Whoever wins – Dimitrov or Atanassov – the post-election spin from those in power at national level is likely to be that the victor was a candidate from a party of the ruling coalition. It is an open question whether there is not much to choose between the two frontrunners; but Borissov is said to have workably cordial relations with both. As in Sofia, whether or not GERB wins, Borissov does.

Traditionally, somewhat less of a contender in Plovdiv is the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which this time round has nominated the head of the Languages High School, Nikolai Radev, as its mayoral candidate. In 2015, the BSP’s Plovdiv mayoral candidate was its leader in the city, Georgi Gergov, who went down in flames in fifth place at the first round, with less than eight per cent. (Ahead of him was Zdravko Dimitrov, in fourth place with 10.76 per cent.)

Few, however, would look with interest on what happens to a BSP mayoral candidate in Plovdiv, apart from to confirm a predictable electoral oblivion. On October 27, the first round of Bulgaria’s local elections, and perhaps on November 3, in a second round, all eyes will be on Sofia and the contest between incumbent mayor, GERB’s Yordanka Fandukova, and the BSP-backed Maya Manolova. That will be interesting, of course, but let us return hastily to Plovdiv.

The reformist Democratic Bulgaria, which did none too badly in Bulgaria’s May 2019 European Parliament elections, has nominated Atanas Kostov, a specialist in intellectual property law, as its candidate in the 2019 Plovdiv mayoral elections.

For the rest, it is a matter of a list of names. But to be moderately fair, here are the names of the candidates not mentioned so far:

Dimitar Spilkov (Christian Democrats), Georgi Gyulemetov (Vuzrazhdane Plovdiv), Lubomira Gancheva (ABC), Georgi Kolev (Agrarian Union Alexander Stamboliiski), Nikolai Tsvetkov (Volya), Mehmed Dermendzhi (United Social Democrats), Iliya Zyumbilev (Bulgarian Agrarian National Union). Now you know.

January 2019 saw fireworks in Plovdiv as the year of its status as European Capital of Culture began. At the end of October, and probably after polls close in a second round on the first Sunday on November, there may be a few more fireworks in the city.

(Photo, of the opening ceremony of Plovdiv European Capital of Culture 2019: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)


Bulgaria’s 2019 local elections: Factfile




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.