Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski, the former king, says his party will now back incumbent President Petar Stoyanov in presidential elections in November. The move caught some members of the former king's movement by surprise, as Stoyanov already had the backing of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces. But, in fact, Simeon had little choice and it may turn out to have been a shrewd move. Ahead of the campaign's official opening tomorrow, RFE/RL's Julia Guechakov takes a closer look.
Prague, 11 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- In what looked more like a royal blessing than a party endorsement, Bulgaria's prime minister has announced that his party will back incumbent President Petar Stoyanov for a second term in office in upcoming elections.
By deciding to back Stoyanov, an independent who already has the backing of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), Simeon has virtually assured that Stoyanov will not face serious competition.
The National Movement Simeon II -- a recent coalition led by the former monarch -- won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections earlier this year. Had Simeon chosen to back a different candidate, it would have posed a serious challenge to Stoyanov.
Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski justified the decision as follows: "The position of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) is a clear sign of continuity in Bulgaria's foreign policy, which is aimed at a full-fledged membership in the European Union and NATO, a sign that the National Movement shares the values of the European popular parties."
Significantly, Simeon made the announcement on the eve of a recent meeting in Sofia of heads of state of East European nations aspiring to join NATO. Membership in the alliance was a top foreign policy priority for the previous SDS government. Also, the NDSV is said to be seeking to join the European Popular party, a grouping of mostly ruling European conservative parties, of which the SDS is a member.
The decision seemed to leave perplexed many of the NDSV's leaders. Stoyanov, a popular politician with a good foreign-policy record, is running as an independent and already had the endorsement of the SDS. And the UDF has bitterly opposed the NDSV since losing to the king's movement in the June general election.
But the movement in fact had little choice. Simeon is barred from running for president under the constitution, as he has not lived in Bulgaria for the past five years. Simeon's movement is a motley group, and most members have little political experience and no national following. The NDSV -- and the former monarch -- could hardly risk losing the presidential poll so soon after coming to power.
The center-right SDS appeared to have plenty of reasons to rejoice at the NDSV's endorsement of Stoyanov. Party leaders were quick to publicly present it as a failure of the ruling coalition -- and their own victory.
As Dimitar Abadzhiev, a UDF leader said: "The National Movement Simeon II once again showed they are weak politicians unable to take important political decisions, just as they are unable to rule the country. This position clearly dealt a heavy blow to their coalition parties, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and the Socialist Party, which clearly are of a different opinion."
But in fact the king's endorsement of Stoyanov will deprive the SDS of the opportunity to fight and regain some lost political ground.
The Socialists also said the former king's decision was a sign of political helplessness. The Socialists, who have two ministers in the government although they are not formally part of the coalition, have nominated party leader Georgi Parvanov as their candidate. They had previously expressed a willingness to back a joint candidate with the ruling coalition. Parvanov's nomination -- announced after waiting almost to the last minute -- seemed somehow second-best.
The NDSV's junior partner in the coalition -- the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms -- was in the tightest spot. After repeatedly saying they will back a joint candidate with the former king's movement, the DPS refused to follow the line of their coalition partner.
DPS leader Ahmed Dogan said, "We do not and will not support the nomination of Petar Stoyanov for a second term in office." Dogan further warned that, according to the DPS, endorsing Stoyanov risked a political destabilization and early parliamentary elections.
"Support for Petar Stoyanov by the National Movement -- and as it had been only logical to expect, support by the MRF [for a joint candidate] -- will lead to instability instead of stability. It clears the way for a [political] comeback of the SDS and early parliamentary elections."
Despite the threatening predictions, the DPS -- which for the first time since the collapse of the former communist regime a decade ago now has ministers in the government -- said its coalition agreement with the former king's movement is not in question. The DPS has not endorsed any presidential nominee yet.
In Bulgaria, power rests mostly with the government and parliament. The apparent lack of real competitiveness in November's election could shrink traditionally low voter turnout -- which some say could even fall below the required 50 percent -- and undermine the perceived political weight of the presidential institution. And that, some local analysts suggest, may have been the -- hidden -- reasoning behind the former king's decision.