By Svetla Dimitrova
Rosen Plevneliev, the candidate of Bulgaria’s ruling centre-right party GERB, won the run-off in the Balkan nation’s presidential election on Sunday (October 30th), defeating the Bulgarian Socialist Party’s (BSP) nominee, Ivaylo Kalfin.
The conservative former construction minister was supported by 52.56% of those who cast their ballots in the poll, the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) told the media on Monday morning after a 98% vote count. The leftist former foreign minister trailed 5% behind with 47.44%. According to preliminary results, the turnout in the presidential run-off on Sunday stood at 48%. Under law, the CEC must announce the final outcome of the election within 48 hours after the closing of the polling stations.
Plevneliev, a 47-year-old with a background in computer technology, is the wealthiest acting politician in Bulgaria. He had a successful career in the construction business when GERB’s leader, Boyko Borisov, picked him for the regional development portfolio in the government he formed on July 27th 2009, after the party’s victory in the parliamentary elections held earlier the same month.
Plevneliev resigned from his ministerial post in early September after the governing party nominated him as its candidate for the presidential vote, whose first round was held on October 23rd.
He is due to assume office on January 23rd, replacing incumbent President Georgi Parvanov, a former BSP leader, who will step down after two consecutive five-year terms in the post.
Vice-president-elect Margarita Popova, is expected to resign as justice minister soon, but her replacement has not been named yet. Borisov told Sofia-based private bTV television station on Monday that he had made his choice already, but would announce the person’s name before presenting the nominee to the parliamentary justice committee and lawmakers.
Speaking at GERB’s first post-election news conference on Sunday night, Plevneliev vowed to work “day and night” to speed up Bulgaria’s development as a modern European state, where all regions enjoy equal chances for economic growth.
The fourth democratically elected head of state since the fall of communism in Bulgaria, he also pledged to turn the presidency into a transparent and pro-active institution with a pivotal role in defining the country’s priorities and in drafting the strategies for their implementation.
“Bulgaria will have an active, dynamic presidency with open doors for civic institutions and regions,” Plevneliev said, voicing support for reforms in the judiciary, as well as the education, social and health sectors, and for energy diversification initiatives.
One of the first steps he would take when he assumes office would be to recall all Bulgarian ambassadors who have been found to have served as agents or informers of the communist-era secret services, he noted. Parvanov, who himself collaborated with those services, has been consistently refusing to do that.
Although neither Plevneliev nor Popova are members of GERB, their victory allows the party to take over the last of the three institutions of political power in Bulgaria that remained outside its control after the July 2009 parliamentary elections.
This, according to Bulgarian political analyst Evgeniy Dainov, carries some risks, the biggest being that GERB proves unprepared to handle the whole burden of power and to exercise that power constructively. A major weakness it has to deal with is the lack of governing skills, he said, citing the administrative chaos following the first round of the presidential vote, held concurrently with local government elections.
“On the positive side, the elections showed that GERB has taken a firm hold as a centre right party and that the bipolar political model has been restored,” Dainov told SETimes on Sunday. “Borisov would score a big plus, if he now turns quickly to the reforms he himself has put on hold.”
It was that possibility of all the power getting into the prime minister’s hands that prompted some voters to cast a ballot for Kalfin, even if they were not BSP supporters.
“I don’t think it is good for the country to have the government, parliament and the presidency all under Borisov’s control. There should be a balancing force for things to work well,” Sofianite Georgi Alexandrov, 60, told SETimes.
Others saw nothing wrong with the party’s tightening its grip on power.
“I don’t buy the Socialists’ threats about a GERB dictatorship, especially when they come from them,” Maria Nikolova, 32, told SETimes. “Besides, Plevneliev has been very efficient as a minister and successful as a businessman, so I trust him.”
Not all share that feeling. BSP leader Sergey Stanishev insisted that the elections were manipulated and the vote was controlled.
“We were witness to an unprecedented manipulation of public opinion and the free will of Bulgarian citizens,” he claimed at the party’s post-election news conference on Sunday night. “GERB made these elections with enormous funding, police pressure and threats; these elections were not free, fair or democratic.”
While accusing GERB of vote-buying, the BSP were not planning to call for the invalidation of the elections due to lack of sufficient supporting evidence.