Bulgarian Ruling-Party Candidate Wins Presidential Runoff

Bulgaria’s ruling party, Gerb, tightened its grip on power in the Balkan country as its candidate, Rosen Plevneliev, won the presidential runoff election.

Plevneliev, a 47-year-old former development minister, had 52.56 percent of the vote after 99.96 percent of the ballots were counted, the Central Election Committee in Sofia said today. Ivailo Kalfin, 47, a member of the European Parliament and a former foreign minister who ran on the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party’s ticket, had 47.44 percent.

The European Union’s poorest nation is struggling to boost economic growth, combat corruption and weather the euro area’s sovereign-debt crisis. The election was “a vote of confidence” before 2013 parliamentary polls, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said after results showed his Gerb party had won the most city council seats nationwide, including in the capital, Sofia.

“The majority vote was in our favor,” Borissov told reporters in Sofia yesterday. “This is a great responsibility. We’re building new roads, renovating cities and upgrading infrastructure. We’ll have to do a lot more of that in the next two years to achieve the same results in the parliamentary elections.”

Gerb swept to power 27 months ago, pledging to root out corruption and organized crime and boost living standards with EU aid. The trading bloc’s concern about the rule of law prevented Bulgaria from joining the Schengen passport-free zone.

Hard Times

“We live in the most difficult time since World War II,” Borissov told a news conference yesterday. “Economic growth in many countries in Europe is slowing, affecting Bulgaria, which means less revenue. We have to work very hard to raise funds for increased spending on infrastructure projects next year and foreign debt repayment in 2013.”

Economic recovery faltered in the second quarter as demand slumped in the 27-nation trading zone, which buys about 60 percent of the country’s exports. Second-quarter gross domestic product rose 1.9 percent from a year earlier, the slowest in three quarters, after a 3.4 percent expansion in the previous three-month period. Growth will probably reach 2.8 percent this year and 2.9 percent in 2012, Finance Minister Simeon Djankov said on Oct. 24.

Budget Approval

Bulgaria survived the global financial crisis without seeking bailout loans from international lenders. The country of 7.3 million people kept taxes at the lowest level in the EU and aims to narrow its budget deficit to 2 percent of GDP this year from 3.9 percent in 2010 and to 1.35 percent of GDP in 2012.

The Cabinet plans to approve next year’s budget draft today and submit it to Parliament, Borissov said yesterday.

Plevneliev, a computer engineer, ran a construction business before joining Borissov’s Cabinet in 2009 to focus on upgrading Bulgaria’s highway network closer to EU standards. Incumbent Georgi Parvanov, elected to a second five-year term in 2007, was prevented by the constitution from seeking a third term.

“Our cause is a modern Bulgaria fully integrated in the EU,” Plevneliev told reporters in Sofia yesterday. “We’ll have to work day and night to achieve that.”

While executive power lies with the government, the president is the army’s commander-in-chief and has the right to veto laws, propose Cabinet appointments to Parliament and call early elections. He names ambassadors and the heads of the intelligence and security services.

Recall Ambassadors

Plevneliev’s first task will be to replace a dozen ambassadors, who were identified as collaborators of the communist-era secret services by a specialized panel last year, he said. Parvanov, who was named as a former agent by the same panel in 2007, refused to recall them.

The election was marred by reports of violations, including allegations of vote-buying and threats to fire people if they didn’t support a given candidate in small towns and villages, according to the Bulgarian arm of Transparency International.

Bulgarian “authorities launched 106 investigations into suspected vote-buying related to the first round,” the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors elections, said in a statement today. It urged the government “to address shortcomings such as persistent allegations of vote buying. This should be properly investigated.”

Pressure on Minorities

Minorities including Roma, who account for 4.9 percent of the population and are among the poorest and least educated, “were particularly susceptible to undue influence such as vote-buying and pressure,” the OSCE said.

All political parties had to include warnings against vote-buying in campaign materials under an amendment to the election law. Proven cases are punishable with up to three years in prison and a fine of as much as 3,000 lev ($2,147).

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