Tue, Jul 07, 2009 - Page 6 News List

GERB party ready to start coalition talks in Bulgaria


Bulgaria’s center-right opposition GERB — Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria — party said it would start coalition talks yesterday, after winning a national election that boosted the prospect of reforms in the EU member to combat corruption and the recession.

GERB won on a promise to uproot the deep-seated crime that prompted the EU last year to cut aid, capitalizing on voter anger over the Socialist-led government’s failure to stem graft and prevent economic pain.

Party leader Boiko Borisov, 50, a burly Sofia mayor nicknamed Batman after the fictional superhero due to his zeal for action, said he would head the next government and reiterated his campaign promises to move fast on reforms.

“Those who have stolen should be very afraid ... The thieves will go to jail,” Borisov, a former bodyguard, told reporters.

A new government must quickly tackle the judiciary and economic policy to avoid new EU sanctions on aid, badly needed to fund Bulgaria’s cash-strapped economy, and to attract investors, many of whom fled this year.

This is likely to include starting loan talks with the IMF and slashing government spending.

Borisov was quick to reassure investors that “updating the budget was the first thing” his government would do, addressing concerns that Bulgaria might endanger its currency board regime by turning to a public deficit after years of surpluses.

Nearly complete results showed Borisov’s GERB won 39.7 percent of the proportional vote compared with 17.7 percent for the Socialists. GERB also won 26 additional seats in the 240-member legislature in a vote for a total of 31 mandates distributed separately, the results showed. Exit polls showed GERB might get a total of about 120 seats, one seat short of clear majority.

GERB’s better-than-expected election result, which topped opinion surveys by 10 percentage points, alleviates concerns that protracted coalition talks could water down reform plans.

Observers said GERB was likely to strike a deal with a grouping of rightist parties, the Blue Coalition, which is poised to win about 16 seats.

Meanwhile, five suspected criminals who ran in the election to escape prosecution failed to win seats, ballot results showed yesterday.

Loopholes in the laws allowed suspects awaiting trial to register as candidates in the election to secure release from custody and temporary immunity from prosecution. If elected, their immunity would have been permanent.

None of the five, including two suspected crime bosses from Dupnitsa, won seats. Their trials will now resume, prosecutors said.

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