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Bulgarians Vote as Two Main Parties Locked in Dead Heat

A man casts his ballot at a polling station during the general election in Sofia, Bulgaria, on May 12, 2013. Photographer: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images
A man casts his ballot at a polling station during the general election in Sofia, Bulgaria, on May 12, 2013. Photographer: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images

May 12 (Bloomberg) -- Bulgarians began voting in an early election that has the Balkan country’s two main parties, Gerb and the Bulgarian Socialist Party, locked in a dead heat.

The polls opened at 7 a.m. Sofia time and are scheduled to close at 8 p.m. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Party of European Socialists have election monitors stationed at polls following reports of vote buying during presidential elections in October. Voter turnout across the country was 41.3 percent at 5:30 p.m. Electoral Commission spokesman Bisser Trayanov said in a live broadcast on Bulgarian state Television.

Bulgaria, the European Union’s poorest member, was thrown into turmoil in February by anti-austerity protests that echoed unrest across Europe. The next Cabinet needs to boost growth and continue budget cuts after unemployment rose to an eight-year high and violent rallies against poverty, graft and high utility bills led to the last government’s collapse.

“The elected parties will produce a very unstable Parliament and government,” Kolyo Kolev, head of the Mediana research institute in Sofia, said by phone. “These elections will be dirty, full of fear, pressured voting and vote buying.”

Bulgarian prosecutors are investigating 17 cases of alleged vote buying, the Office of the Chief Prosecutor in Sofia said on its website today. People living in a poor quarter of the city of Pernik, 30 kilometers (18 miles) south-west of Sofia, received 200 lev ($133) each to celebrate Orthodox Easter May 5, from one of the two biggest parties, Darik Radio reported today, citing its own correspondent in Pernik.

Opinion Polls

Former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s Gerb party, which lost control of the government on Feb. 20 amid the street protests, garnered 24 percent in an April 23-May 1 survey of 993 people by Gallup BBSS. The Socialists had the backing of 23.6 percent, according to the survey, which has a margin of error of 3 percent, implying a virtual tie.

Gerb, which stands for Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria, would probably win about 100 seats in the 240-seat assembly, while the Socialists will take about 80 seats, Otilia Simkova, an analyst in Eurasia Group in London, said in a report based on the recent polling.

Gerb’s most likely coalition partner would be the Bulgaria for Citizens Movement of former EU Commissioner Meglena Kouneva should it win the required 4 percent to enter Parliament, according to Simkova.

Coalition

The Socialists, who have said former Finance Minister Plamen Oresharski would lead the government if they prevail, would probably forge a coalition with the ethnic Turk Movement for Rights and Freedoms and Kouneva’s party, Simkova said. The Movement representing ethnic Turks would take 7.1 percent, while Citizens for Bulgaria would get 4 percent, according to Gallup.

“The coalition government that succeeds” the interim Cabinet “after the election, whatever its political makeup, is likely to preside over a change of policy emphasis, if not a complete overhaul,” the Economist Intelligence Unit said in a report on May 9. “It will probably give greater emphasis to tackling unemployment and promoting economic growth, without jeopardizing the country’s prized fiscal stability.”

Bulgarian Markets

The yield on Eurobonds maturing in July 2017 rose 4 basis points, or 0.04 percentage point, to 1.6752 percent at 5:17 p.m. on May 10.

The cost of insuring the country’s debt with credit-default swaps rose 1 percent to 93.99, after falling 8 percent on May 8, the lowest intraday level since Jan. 8, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The Sofix stock index fell 0.24 percent on May 10 to close at 408.55, the biggest intraday decline since April 17.

Borissov, a former bodyguard of Bulgaria’s last communist dictator Todor Zhivkov and later of the former king and ex-Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, took 39.7 percent when he won elections in 2009.

Borissov’s support eroded as he was unable to turn around the living standards for Bulgarians, who have lived under strict fiscal and financial rules since 1997, when a crisis closed one-third of the country’s banks.

Flat Tax

Gerb has focused its campaign on keeping the flat 10 percent tax rate on personal and corporate income and freeing the energy market to reduce utility prices.

The Socialists pledged 250,000 new jobs, to scrap the flat tax and resume the construction of a 10 billion-euro ($13.1 billion) nuclear power plant at Belene by Russia’s Rosatom Corp., which Borissov’s administration canceled because of a lack of funds and investors.

“I’m very disappointed by all political parties, but I’m still voting with the hope there will be more jobs, better health care and that young people won’t be forced to leave the country seeking a better life in the West,” Georgi Dimov, a 47-year-old electrician, said in an interview at a polling station in Sofia today. “Not voting is not an option.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Elizabeth Konstantinova in Sofia at ekonstantino@bloomberg.net; Gordana Filipovic in Belgrade at gfilipovic@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James M. Gomez at jagomez@bloomberg.net

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