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Balkan Report: June 19, 2001


19 June 2001, Volume 5, Number 43

BULGARIA: A ROYAL VICTORY FOR THE FORMER KING. Although most observers predicted the exiled monarch Simeon II's victory in the 17 June parliamentary elections, few could have guessed that his party, the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), now seems likely to finish more than 25 percentage points ahead of the incumbent center-right Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) and the opposition Socialist Party (BSP). The SDS and BSP received an almost even total of 18 and 17 percent of the vote, respectively, according to preliminary returns. The NDSV won a clear victory and 119 out of 240 seats in the parliament.

There were two surprises in the election results besides the preliminary 43 percent for the king's party: a sharp drop in support for the governing coalition, and higher than expected backing for the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS).

Simeon II thus became the first monarch to return to power in post-communist Eastern Europe. His party was formed three months before the elections and is believed to have won the protest vote of the tired, disappointed, and impoverished elements of the Bulgarian population. However, many believe that Simeon's choice of young Western-educated professionals as potential members of parliament helped increase his support (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 May 2001).

The king, who did not himself run in the election, has not announced whether he will become prime minister. He also refuses to talk about any plans for the restoration of the monarchy, pointing out that Bulgaria has more important matters to deal with now, such as unemployment, poverty, and corruption.

Seeking to explain the devastating defeat of his party, the outgoing premier and leader of the SDS, Ivan Kostov, said that his government had asked Bulgarian voters to pay a higher price than they were ready to pay for the economic reforms. He admitted mistakes and shortcomings by his cabinet, but stressed that the SDS managed to lay the foundations for a successful future policy aimed at achieving economic prosperity and Euro-Atlantic integration. Kostov nonetheless made it clear that he will soon resign as party leader.

There are three aspects of the election outcome that are particularly worthy of note. First, the election results show that the two-party model, reflecting the confrontation between communism and anti-communism, has proven out of date and been modified by the victory of Simeon II.

Second, the change in the political space and the marginalization of the two previously major political forces has created a new situation that will require a political consensus for effective government.

Third, the public not only demonstrated awareness of the regional security situation, but also showed appreciation of the need for a healthy ethnic balance by giving generous support to the DPS, both at home and abroad. Some 55,000 Turks holding Bulgarian passports voted for the DPS in Turkey to help preserve the political importance and parliamentary presence of the only Turkish political party in Bulgaria. Many saw the shadow of Macedonia's ethnic drama in this mobilization effort. In comparison, only 2,000 Bulgarian Turks voted in Turkey during the 1994 parliamentary elections.

The Bulgarian public rejected continued polarization of public life by voting for a man who promised to unite the nation to work together for a better life. In contrast to the king's strategy of reaching out, based on his intention of forming a broad coalition government after the election, the SDS led a defensive, negative campaign concentrating on the weaknesses of the NDSV rather than on its own election platform. Apparently, the negative television clips had an unintended effect and only helped increase support for the NDSV. On election night, Kostov was bombarded with questions from the media about his party's negative campaign strategy and was also confronted by critics from his own party.

Support for the incumbent coalition plunged to the levels of that for the Socialists, who experienced a crushing defeat four years ago and have been weak ever since. The election results took the SDS by surprise, and the party leadership does not yet seem to appreciate that its options are now limited. The SDS has little choice but to accept the king's offer to form a coalition government if it wants to continue to play an important role in political life. For his part, the leader of the DPS, Ahmed Dogan, declaring his readiness to join the future coalition cabinet, said that the next government should be based on consensus and the principles of Euro-Atlantic integration.

The NDSV has not announced its candidate for prime minister but has opened the door for negotiations, saying that its natural partners are the SDS and DPS. SDS Secretary-General Ekaterina Mihailova declared that her party is willing to hold talks with the NDSV, but that such talks should be initiated by the victorious party. Mihailova added that the SDS will not participate in a government which is supported by, or includes, the BSP.

Other SDS officials, however, took a more confrontational approach and warned that the new government may fall prematurely if it fails to improve living conditions. Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski (SDS), who is rumored to be one of the king's possible choices for prime minister, said that the SDS must share power and responsibility with the NDSV and help deliver on the promises of the elected political parties. He also criticized the SDS's negative election campaign as an obstacle to future cooperation with the king.

The NDSV has announced that even with an absolute majority, it still prefers to form a coalition government in order to have stronger support for the envisaged reforms. After the big election victory, that party will have little difficulty finding a suitable coalition partner. The Turkish party alone will add 21 seats, and its presence in the cabinet will be beneficial for interethnic relations in Bulgaria.

The big question is whether the SDS will join the king in an effort to improve the economy, or whether it will choose to go into opposition and even try to undermine the NDSV's effort at governing. The situation presents a test for the Union of Democratic Forces, which must demonstrate that it puts Bulgaria's interests above its narrow party interests.

A coalition government built on consensus will also show that Bulgaria has abandoned 19th-century confrontational partisan politics and has indeed moved into 21st-century Europe. (Kathryn Mazur is an independent analyst based in the U.S. E-mail: Kathryn_Mazur@hotmail.com)

ALBANIAN MEDIA CALLED BALANCED IN ELECTION CAMPAIGN COVERAGE. The public service broadcaster Albanian Television (TVSH) has reported about the two main rival parties' electoral campaign activities in a balanced way, according to data collected by the Society for Democratic Culture (SDC) in cooperation with the OSCE.

Between 3 and 9 June, TVSH devoted 39 percent of its electoral campaign news coverage to activities of the governing Socialist Party (PS), "Albanian Daily News" reported on 15 June. In the same period, TVSH used 31 percent of the airtime to report about activities of the opposition five-party coalition Union for Victory, which is led by the Democratic Party (PD). (The PD has challenged this conclusion, arguing that TVSH is pro-government, ATA reported.)

The SDC noted a bias, however, in Radio Tirana's news coverage, where the PS received 48 percent of airtime in the coverage of electoral campaign activities, which is almost twice as much as the opposition got. Radio Tirana only devoted 23 percent of its airtime to the Union for Victory.

Among the private TV stations, the SDC concluded that the PS had a slight advantage. The country's largest private stations -- TV Klan and TV Arberia -- devoted 49 percent of their election campaign to reporting on activities of the PS and only 31 percent to those of the opposition. A local affiliate of the Italy-based Telenorba TV spent 36 percent of its airtime reporting on opposition activities and 34 percent on those of the PS, however.

Two smaller TV channels -- TV Shijak and ATN 1 -- provided almost no coverage of activities of the governing parties and devoted almost all of their airtime to reporting on activities of the PD, according to the survey. Both stations have been explicit supporters of the PD in the past. The SDC will continue to monitor the election campaign coverage and publish weekly reports until the elections on 24 June. (Fabian Schmidt)

THE ETHNIC AND FOREIGN FACTORS IN THE ALBANIAN ELECTIONS. In the south, "Albanian Daily News" noted that all the main parties have put forward ethnic Greek candidates in the town of Dropull, which has a sizeable ethnic Greek minority. The parties are also using Greek-language posters there. Apparently, both the PS and PD intend to appeal to traditional voters of the Human Rights Union Party (PBDNJ), which primarily represents the Greek minority.

Meanwhile, officials from the Central Election Commission said that some election candidates have complained about the illegal involvement of foreigners in the election campaign. Albanian law does not allow foreign nationals to endorse candidates or parties. Filip Cakuli, who is a satirist and the PD's candidate in the southern city of Saranda, claims that Yannis Pediotis, the Greek consul in Gjirokastra, openly supports the PBDNJ's candidate there.

Cakuli also claims that U.S. Ambassador Joseph Limprecht accompanied the Greek-American journalist and lobbyist Nikos Gatzoyiannis -- better known to American readers as Nicholas Gage -- during a trip to the south. Gage reportedly spoke out openly against the Union for Victory coalition at a meeting with local residents. The U.S. embassy denied the reports, however.

Without mentioning any case explicitly, the KQZ issued a statement, saying that "such illegal actions favor specific candidates and bring unequal competition and chaos to electoral districts. [They] influence ballots that should be cast freely."

Gage was a journalist for "The New York Times" whose 1983 investigative novel "Eleni" about his mother's killing by the Greek communist partisans in 1948 became a bestseller. He is a native of the village of Lia, located just inside the Greek side of the border with Albania. He has championed the cause of the ethnic Greek minority in Albania in recent years. (Fabian Schmidt)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "People who try to solve even very complicated ethnic and religious problems by force of arms are not worthy of support by the international community." -- Russian President Vladimir Putin, quoted by Interfax in Ljubljana on 16 June.

"They cannot call themselves democrats if they cannot apologize for the horror that they committed here." -- Remzije Haziri, a Kosovar woman whose husband has been missing since 1998. She wants the authorities in Belgrade to apologize for what happened in Kosova. Quoted by AP in Prishtina on 15 June.

"Things would develop much faster here if it were not for all the conditions and pressures from the outside [to cooperate with The Hague]. Pressures and blackmail continue and only make it difficult for us to carry on with democratic reforms and transform this country into a key for stability in the region." -- Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. Quoted by AP in Belgrade on 14 June.

He also referred to the international community's "irrational expectations and obsessiveness" about Milosevic. Quoted by AP in Belgrade on 14 June.

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