Bulgaria’s 2019 local elections: The battle for Rousse

In Bulgaria’s autumn 2019 mayoral elections, the contest in the Danube city of Rousse is one of the most interesting among the country’s major cities.

In the scheduled mayoral elections in October 2015, the candidate of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB party, Plamen Stoilov, won a first-round victory with close to 53 per cent of the vote.

That year, GERB also won the largest share of seats in the 51-seat city council, 21, while six each went to the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the Patriots-VMRO and the Reformist Bloc.

In the October 2019 mayoral elections in Rousse, there are 11 candidates.

Stoilov is not among them. GERB headquarters in Sofia opted instead to nominate Diana Ivanova, head of the Vocational High School for Apparel in Rousse, as its mayoral candidate, even though Stoilov had received the largest number of nominations from local party structures for the candidacy.

GERB local structures in Rousse protested against the decision to nominate Ivanova instead of Stoilov, but Stoilov sought to resolve the dispute by announcing that he would not be making himself available as a mayoral candidate, given the lack of support from party headquarters.

It has been suggested that the fall of Stoilov was linked to the departure earlier in 2019 of Tsvetan Tsvetanov as GERB deputy leader, parliamentary leader and chief of its election staff. Elsewhere in Bulgaria, other incumbent mayors from GERB have been replaced this time around, with it being claimed that this was because they were close to Tsvetanov. GERB has denied these claims.

Given the rumblings in GERB in Rousse, on October 27 2019 it remains to be seen how well or otherwise the electorate will mobilise to back Ivanova.

The Bulgarian Socialist Party mayoral candidate in Rousse is Pencho Milkov, a lawyer in the city, while the reformist Democratic Bulgaria has nominated Deana Toneva, a manager at a large insurance company. Regional governor Galin Grigorov is standing on a ticket backed jointly by the ultranationalist parties VMRO and the National Movement for the Salvation of Bulgaria.

Eleonora Nikolova, who was elected mayor of Rousse in 2002 in a by-election on a ticket backed by civil organisations and was re-elected at regular mayoral elections in 2003 on a ticket backed by 18 right-wing political formations, has her hat in the ring in October 2019. In 2002, she won a second-round victory with more than 57 per cent of the vote, and in 2003, a first-round victory with 72 per cent.

Nikolova, a former head of the regional court in Rousse and former prosecutor whose career also includes having been an MP for the centre-right Union of Democratic Forces and having headed the BORKOR Centre for Combating Corruption and Organised Crime (which later was subsumed by statute into a new body), has the backing of a number of small parties.

These include the UDF, the Union of Free Democrats (a party founded in 2001 by Stefan Sofianski, a former Sofia mayor), the Movement Bulgaria for Citizens, Bulgarian New Democracy (a breakaway from the National Movement Simeon II) and former Bulgarian Socialist Party MP Tatyana Doncheva’s Movement 21.

Nikolova left the UDF in 2006 to co-found the European Democratic Way, a civil movement involving members and leaders of other political parties.

As with all mayoral elections in Bulgaria, should the vote in Rousse on October 27 not produce an outright victor, a second round will be held on November 3 between the two candidates with the most votes at the first round.

The full list of candidates in the mayoral elections in Rousse in autumn 2019 is Diana Ivanova (GERB), Pencho Milkov (BSP), Galin Grigorov (VMRO-NFSB), Maryan Dimitrov (Podem), Ventsislav Angelov (Bulgarian National Unity), Dayan Tachev (Alternative for Citizens), Petar Ivanov (Vuzhrazhdane), Daud Ibrayim (Movement for Rights and Freedoms), Deana Toneva (Democratic Bulgaria), Eleonora Nikolova (UDF, Movement Bulgaria for Citizens, BND, Union of Free Democrats, Movement 21) and Stelyan Stefanov (Mir).

(Photo, of the Monument of Liberty in Rousse: Cameltrader)


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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.