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Bulgarian President Parvanov Wins Re-election

Date: 31.10.2006

About four out of five Bulgarians who turned out for the second round of voting in Bulgaria’s presidential elections on October 29 chose incumbent Georgi Purvanov over his ultra-nationalist challenger, Volen Siderov.

Soon after polls closed at 7pm, exit polls put the results at Purvanov 77.1 per cent, Siderov 22.9 per cent.

The elections were a sequel to the October 22 voting, in which Purvanov and Siderov emerged as the top two out of seven candidates. Because voter turnout on October 22 was less than 50 per cent, a second round was mandatory under Bulgarian electoral law. On a second round, no minimum turnout is required and whoever gets the most votes wins.

According to Alpha Research, BSP supporters and Ataka supporters had almost exclusively supported their respective candidates, while supporters of the right-wing parties the Union of Democratic Forces and the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria split between Purvanov and Siderov. More than 60 per cent of supporters of the National Movement Simeon II, and of Sofia mayor Boiko Borissov's Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria, supported Purvanov.

Reacting to the outcome, Prime Minister and BSP leader Sergei Stanishev said that Purvanov had managed to prove during his five years in office that he had not been acting as a party representative.

While the elections had shown that in Bulgaria there were populism, xenophobia and a lot of unhappy people, Bulgarians had voted for a stable, European future for the country, he said.

Stanishev expressed unhappiness that some parties had tried to discredit others during their election campaigns.

Purvanov took office as President in January 2002. The constitution allows a President two terms of office. The 49-year-old, who led the Bulgarian Socialist Party before becoming President, based his re-election campaign on presenting himself as a statesmanlike, unifying figure. Siderov (50), whose Ataka (“Attack”) party won its first seats in Parliament in the summer 2005 elections, sought to appeal to Bulgarians disgruntled with the country’s pro-Western policy, its governing coalition that includes a party supported mainly by Bulgarians of ethnic Turkish descent, and its Roma minority, an impoverished and marginalised group with low levels of education and a birth rate much higher than the national average. Ataka also has been associated with anti-Semitic and homophobic views.

After the first round, when the centre-right was eliminated from the race, right-wing leaders either endorsed Purvanov for the sake of seeing Siderov defeated, or said that they would not vote.

The low turnout in the first round was ascribed by analysts variously to voters being disillusioned with the country’s political elite, to the absence of strong centre-right candidates, and to the internecine strife that has damaged the credibility of parties in the centre-right spectrum. While Purvanov sought to present himself as a non-partisan candidate, some perceive him as close to the tripartite governing coalition that he midwifed last year to ensure a stable administration was in place to shepherd the country into the European Union.

On the second election day, Purvanov called on all Bulgarians to support his candidacy, even those who had political differences with him. Siderov, who softened his message and tone after the first round, shifted his campaign theme before the second round to saying that a vote for him was a vote against organised crime and corruption in the country.

The situation in the country was calm, although news agencies reported some allegations by Siderov supporters of voting irregularities. Opinion polls had predicted a substantial victory for Purvanov, who got about 64 per cent of votes in the first round.

Purvanov’s new term of office will be from January 22 2007, a few weeks after the date the country joins the EU, until January 2012. The presidency is a largely ceremonial post, with the incumbent serving as Commander-in-Chief andthe power to return laws to Parliament for redrafting anda quota in appointments to various state bodies, but the President neither appoints nor heads the Cabinet.

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