Bulgaria’s 2019 local elections: Notes from week four

Written by on October 25, 2019 in Bulgaria - Comments Off on Bulgaria’s 2019 local elections: Notes from week four

Ataka party leader Volen Siderov, in front of cameras, submitted his resignation from Parliament on Thursday (stifles yawn). Now you know.

The Siderov stunt was an attempt to draw attention to himself as one of Sofia’s 20 mayoral candidates, as he repeated his challenge to his rival fellow ultra-nationalist Angel Dzhambazki to resign from the European Parliament and devote himself solely to the outcome of the October 27 vote.

The Ataka leader has dropped out of the headlines since his antics on Bulgarian National Television, and his resignation (which requires a vote of approval in Parliament and could in any case be withdrawn before it sits again) went largely ignored, including by Dzahmbazki, partly because on October 24 all eyes were on the 10-hour marathon Supreme Judicial Council election of Ivan Geshev as Prosecutor-General, and the accompanying protests.

Midnight today, October 25, marks the end of the official campaign period ahead of Sunday’s mayoral and municipal elections, although in places where mayors fail to score a first-round victory, a runoff will be held on November 3. So for some, the campaign trail is at its end, for others, perhaps not.

For Nikolai Dimitrov, there was something of a diversion from the campaign trail this week. Dimitrov, the incumbent mayor of Nessebur who is seeking re-election on a socialist-backed ticket, found himself along with four other candidates from Nessebur and Sveti Vlas in a van on their way to Sofia, with the transport provided by the Special Prosecutor’s Office, so that they could be charged with vote-buying.

Dimitrov, who denies wrongdoing, sees a political plot against him in his arrest, and the Bulgarian Socialist Party has darkly hinted at the same. Prosecutors reject these allegations and, without naming them, said that they were investigating reports against “all” parties.

In the course of the week, Bulgarian National Television reported an increase in vote-buying, and in the price of votes. Perhaps the commodities exchange website, which posts rather dull lists of the prices of vegetables and fruit, could add the going rate for votes.

Dimitrov was not the only one who has been on the road. As the week ended, Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Kornelia Ninova gave a television interview in which she said that in the past month, she had travelled about 10 000km on the campaign trail.

“I met with people from the smallest settlements to the largest municipalities. Everywhere I see several topics that are becoming a national issue and need to be addressed very urgently,” Ninova said.

The primary problem was the environment, she said. In many municipalities, people were drinking polluted water. Ninova gave the example of Simeonovgrad, where manganese in the water is several times above normal. She said that in Haskovo the water is in a terrible state. “The air in many cities is polluted, there is almost no municipality where the landfills are not overcrowded and the landfill issue is resolved,” Ninova said.

“In order to improve the demographic picture, BSP mayors will provide: free kindergartens and nurseries, municipal housing for young families, municipal scholarships for young people to study, with a commitment to return and work there,” said. The third problem, Ninova said, was health care. She gave an example by saying that there are no 24-hour pharmacies in the districts of Smolyan and Razgrad, and that municipal hospitals are also in poor condition.

Earlier this week, Ninova said that whatever the outcome of the local elections, she would not resign as leader of the BSP. A comment that made one wonder what her party’s internal polling is telling her.

GERB party leader and Prime Minister Boiko Borissov was also on television as the week closed, terming the BSP in Sofia “a coward” because it had not fielded a candidate in its name.

The BSP is backing, along with some other parties, Maya Manolova, the former national Ombudsman and former BSP MP who is standing as an independent in the mayoral race in Bulgaria’s capital city.

Borissov said that if Manolova became mayor, she would not be able to work with the city council – a reference to the likelihood that GERB and other right- and centre-right parties will win the most seats.

Asked why he thought so, given that when he was mayor of Sofia he did not have his own group in the city council, Borissov responded meaningfully: “You will see”.

“The most important thing for me is GERB to be the first political force after the local elections,” said Borissov, who is not above periodically stating the blindingly obvious.

“It is also important for our Patriotic Front colleagues to do well to confirm good governance,” he said. That reference was notable – the government minority partner currently, technically at least, is the United Patriots, that misnomer describing VMRO, the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria and Siderov’s Ataka. The Patriotic Front was a name previously used when the alliance consisted of VMRO and NFSB.

By October 25, conventional wisdom, based on sundry opinion polls of varying degrees of reliability, was that of Bulgaria’s five major cities, the mayoral elections in Sofia, Plovdiv and Rousse would go to a second round, while the races in Bourgas and Varna would be decided at the first round.

In Rousse, the GERB candidate for mayor, Diana Ivanova, had a meeting with – for some reason – train drivers and motor racing champions. Ah, the all-important train driver vote.

Her message to them was: “We think about the future of children, to have the right career guidance, to have fun, but also to live in a safe environment. I understand the adrenaline of high speeds, but what happens on Bulgarian roads is war. This madness has to stop.”

Lest we all think that she was trying to lecture motor racing champs about the inadvisability of fast driving, what Ivanova was trying to get was at that from a young age, children should be encouraged to drive safely, according to a media statement about her event. Look, I can’t make any sense of this either.

Ivanova’s BSP rival, Pencho Milkov, told party faithful at a campaign-closing event: “In the past month, your energy has filled me with determination. It has given me the strength to make the way through the obstacles in the name of a cause: Rousse ”.

“It’s been a month of dozens of meetings, encountering thousands of people; a month in which many emotions changed, because talking to you was not easy. I saw many people who have lost hope to fight and those who never went into battle, but they all wanted one thing – they longed for a change, ” Milkov said.

He said that the need for change is not just visible, it is felt with every breath of Rousse air and it is time for definite action. The reference to Rousse air, presumably, is the recent revival of air pollution in that otherwise engaging city on the Danube. A BSP media statement on his event said that Milkov’s supporters lustily chanted “Victory!”, leaving one to wonder if such vigorous engagement with the air was advisable.

In Plovdiv, GERB candidate Zdravko Dimitrov was still going on about the advisory boards that he promises to set up if elected mayor, which most polls now say he will be. The first, he said this week, would be for people with disabilities.

“I met people with different disabilities. I have heard many of their problems, I have seen what difficulties they face and I will not remain indifferent,” Dimitrov said, visiting a learning centre for people with severe sight disabilities.

Dimitrov’s ultra-nationalist rival, Slavcho Atanassov, posted a message to the people of Plovdiv, saying that the problems of the city were not a matter of left-wing or right-wing, “they are the problems of our city and affect everyone”.

“Heavy traffic in Plovdiv is not a left-wing issue, nor does it require a right-wing solution. It is a problem that we all suffer from. And it requires an adequate management solution,” Atanassov said. Perhaps if he is elected, he will tell us what that is.

NFSB leader Valeri Simeonov dropped in to Plovdiv to back up Atanassov, and apart from a standard endorsement (“Slavcho Atanasov is experienced enough, the NSFB does not interfere in the work of its mayors”), Simeonov said that his party had held talks with Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov and Interior Minister Mladen Marinov on Monday on “a fair election process – so that the manipulations in Plovdiv in 2015 and 2011 are not repeated”. Atanassov lost those elections.

In Sofia, incumbent mayor and GERB candidate Yordanka Fandukova was adding to her chest of endorsements. Having previously got the nod from the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions, this week she added the other major labour federation, Podkrepa, and from the private sector, the Confederation of Industrialists and Employers in Bulgaria.

Famous former footballer Hristo Stoichkov endorsed Fandukova, as he has with the GERB candidates in Plovdiv and the Black Sea cities. It was also a good week for musicians – opera singer Raina Kabaivanska, singer and actress Sylvie Vartan and violinist Vasko Vassilev.

“In this campaign, I do not see other candidates talking about the most important topic for Sofia, namely its economic development,” was one of Fandukova’s message in the closing week of campaigning.

“This is a key topic for me, so I have repeatedly emphasised that Sofia currently has a great chance of attracting a strategic investor. We are ready and this opportunity should not be missed with chaos and experimentation,” she said.

Manolova, meanwhile, spoke of skyscrapers this week, saying that they belonged neither in the green areas of the neighbourhoods nor in the centre of Sofia. “Their place will be determined in the general development plan after real public discussions,” said Manolova, in an apparent pitch for the NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) vote, which, unlike train drivers and motor racing champs, is a genuine constituency.

Manolova hit out at Fandukova, saying that the incumbent mayor’s legacy would be heating utility Toplofikatsiya, which Manolova described as “effectively bankrupt”.

“I showed a document stating that if the company did not pay the debt due to Bulgargaz by the end of November, it would stop deliveries to all of Bulgaria at the threshold of winter. In addition, authorities have turned a ‘building installation’ charge into a tool for neighbourhood scandals and escaped accountability,” Manolova said.

Separately, she said this week: “Public procurement in Sofia is made for certain companies. A secret circle manages the money of the citizens of Sofia, and this is one of the reasons why I decided to stand – in order to solve this problem.”

Musing on the elections in Sofia, Genoveva Petrova of the Alpha Research agency told Bulgarian National Radio on Friday that this was the first time in a very long time that the mayoral race was a genuine contest.

Petrova said that it was not just a matter of the Fandukova-Manolova mayoral contest, but also, Democratic Bulgaria’s candidate Borislav Ignatov had managed to raise his profile from “complete unrecognisability” at the outset of the campaign to “very strong positions for the first round”.

Voting in Bulgaria’s mayoral and municipal elections on October 27 opens at 7am and ends at 8pm, at which latter point it will be legally allowable to publish the results of exit polls. See you Sunday evening.

Related:

Bulgaria’s 2019 local elections: Notes from week three

Bulgaria’s 2019 local elections: Notes from week two

Bulgaria’s 2019 local elections: Notes from week one 

Bulgaria’s 2019 local elections: Factfile

Bulgaria’s 2019 local elections: The battle for Sofia has begun

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

Bulgaria’s 2019 local elections: The battle for Varna

Bulgaria’s 2019 local elections: The ‘battle’ for Bourgas

Bulgaria’s 2019 local elections: The battle for Rousse

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About the Author

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 has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.