Bulgarians went to the polls yesterday in a parliamentary election expected to oust Bulgaria’s Socialist-led coalition and elevate the center-right party of Sofia’s popular mayor to power.
Polls opened at 6am and were to close at 7pm, with 6.8 million eligible voters choosing between 4,500 candidates from 14 political parties and four coalitions for parliament’s 240 seats.
The latest opinion polls have suggested Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev will pay the price for the failure of his corruption-tainted government to handle an economy hit hard by the global downturn.
His main opponent, Sofia Mayor Boiko Borisov, is tipped to score an easy victory, although possibly by too narrow a margin to form a government without seeking a coalition partner.
Borisov’s center right party has been riding high on promises to jail corrupt officials and crime bosses.
Despite securing EU membership, Stanishev’s government has been widely blamed for failing to improve the quality of everyday life in the Balkan country of 7.6 million, the poorest member of the EU.
Although unemployment stands at a relatively low 7 percent, opinion polls say more than a third of Bulgarians fear they might lose their job in the near future. And while wage increases have pushed the average salary to 300 euros (US$420), it remains the lowest in the 27-member EU.
The main reason for the eroding support, however, has been the government’s perceived failure to deal with crime and corruption.
This led Brussels to freeze millions in aid last year over fraud.
Many Bulgarians see politicians from the Socialist Party, as well as from its junior coalition partner — the mainly Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms — as being part of the problem rather than a credible solution.
Last month’s European Parliament elections in Bulgaria saw political parties throw accusations at each other of vote-buying, prompting prosecutors to launch several investigations. The maximum jail sentence for vote-buying in Bulgaria is six years.
Election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were to oversee yesterday’s vote.
Borisov and his Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria party are tipped to gain up to 32 percent of the votes, with Stanishev’s Socialists lagging behind with 22 percent, a poll conducted by the National Public Opinion Center showed on Saturday. No margin of error was provided, but polls of this type in Bulgaria usually have a 3 percent margin of error.
Opinion polls suggest no party is likely to gain enough of a majority to govern alone. If Borisov wins, the Blue Coalition has indicated it could join him to help form a government. But analysts predict that an even broader coalition will be needed to secure a majority.