By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
SOFIA, BULGARIA (BosNewsLife)– A center-right party appears to have won Bulgaria’s parliamentary elections, but its prospects of forming another government looked uncertain and voter-turnout was the lowest in the Balkan country’s post-Communist history.
First official results gave the GERB party of former bodyguard and ex-prime minister Boiko Borisov received about 31 per cent of the vote, followed by the opposition Socialists with roughly 27 per cent.
GERB’s victory was remarkable as the party was forced to resign from government in February following demonstrations against poverty, price hikes and high-level corruption.
At least six people have died after setting themselves on fire in protest or despair despite the influential Orthodox Church appealing against such practices.
Additionally a former Interior minister was linked to a wiretapping scandal involving political opponents. Analysts suggested that GERB won in part because only the party faithful appeared to have bothered to cast ballots.
MANY STAYED AWAY
About half of Bulgaria’s nearly 7 million eligible voters stayed home amid widespread dissatisfaction with the political elite in what is the European Union’s poorest member state.
There were also concerns about possible election fraud.
On the eve of the eve of the elections, 350,000 illegal ballot papers were discovered by security forces in a printing house linked to the GERB party, prompting an angry reaction from Socialist leader Sergei Stanishev.
“This is not European, this is not democratic, I told you this is a conspiracy against democracy and the Constitutional Court in the country and against the free will of the people,” he told reporters after casting his ballot.
“All our observers, members of the electoral committees will be extremely vigilant in order not to let anybody forge the free vote of the Bulgarians,” the Socialist politician added.
Worries about election irregularities in the former communist country had already prompted the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to send its biggest monitoring mission to Bulgaria since 1990. Five parties — but not GERB — have also commissioned an independent vote count.
Bulgarian media said votes were bought in at least some areas of the country, but it was not clear how much this had impacted the election outcome.
With none of the parties having a clear majority in the 240-seats Parliament, GERB said it is prepared to form even a minority government.
Yet one of its potential partners, the ultra-nationalist Attack party, already declined the offer. Commentators say coalition talks could also include legislators representing the Turkish minority and a new centrist party of former European Commissioner Meglena Kuneva.
There is concern however that the political stalemate will lead to new elections later this year, hindering economic growth.
Six years after Bulgaria joined the EU, unemployment remains at an eight year high, millions struggle to survive on low wages or pensions and the government isn’t able to provide running water and reliable electricity to all its citizens.
Some two million people have left the Balkan country since 1989 in search for better opportunities.
All parties had waged a low-profile campaign, with few political posters in Bulgaria’s towns and villages, where half-finished buildings evoke memories of the credit boom and bust under the 2005-2009 Socialist-led government.
The Socialists have pledged to increase spending and create 250,000 new jobs, while GERB emphasizes fiscal responsibility in a country where the currency is pegged to the Euro.
The troubles in Bulgaria have underscored international worries over economies on the fringes of the Eurozone, which already tries to overcome its own economic difficulties.
Whowever wins will have to start talks on forming a new government which commentators say could include the ultra-nationalist Ataka party, as well as legislators representing the Turkish minority and a new centrist party formed by former European commissioner Meglena Kuneva.
(BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key general news developments from especially, but not limited to, (former) Communist countries and other autocratic states impacting the Church and/or other compassionate professionals).
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