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Western Press Review: Bulgaria Elects; Russia Roils

Prague, 29 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- News reports based on nearly complete returns said yesterday that Bulgaria's opposition Union of Democratic Forces candidate Petar Stoyanov won 44.48 percent of the votes in Sunday's presidential election.

He now must face in a run-off vote Sunday Ivan Marazov of the ruling Socialist Party, the former communists, who won 26.97 percent. The Bulgarian election attracts Western commentary. Commentators continue also to examine financial and leadership crises in Russia.


FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The voters' political apathy results from economic depression

"Another landslide in a former communist country," exclaims today's paper in an editorial. The paper says: "In Bulgaria, just a quarter of the voters put their trust in the presidential candidate of the ruling Socialist Party. Opposition candidate Petar Stojanov is justified in being certain of victory in next Sunday's run-off election. The 60 percent voter turnout reflects the Bulgarians' political apathy resulting from the economic depression."

NEW YORK TIMES: Voters protested against the ruling party

Jane Perlez writes today in a news analysis: "In a protest against the ruling party of ex-Communists, Bulgarians gave the opposition candidate for president, Petar Stoyanov, a strong lead in Sunday's vote, preliminary results show." She says: "A surprisingly strong showing was made by George Ganchev of the Bulgarian Business Bloc," adding: "Ganchev, a populist figure who draws the attention of disillusioned Bulgarians with his witty attacks against the main parties, indicated on election night that he would encourage his supporters to vote against the Socialist candidate."

Perlez writes: "Stoyanov's support came from the deep dismay at the economic crisis that has resulted in bank closures, bread shortages, and a sharp fall in the value of the currency."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Neo-communists are unlikely to be on the way out everywhere

In today's edition, diplomatic editor Christopher Lockwood writes: "Bulgaria's voters appear to be ready to block neo-communists who run its parliament from taking control of the presidential palace too, giving support to the notion that a counter-counter-revolution may be under way in Eastern Europe." Lockwood points out that "the Bulgarian vote follows that in Lithuania last week, when Vytautas Landsbergis, who took the country to independence, triumphantly led his Homeland Union back into power." But, writes Lockwood in his analysis, "The neo-communists are unlikely to be on the way out everywhere. In Poland, for instance (where the former-communists in power are maintaining market reforms), they will probably survive."

LONDON TIMES: The Left has begun to crack

Roger Boyes writes in a news analysis: "A strong showing by a conservative politician in the Bulgarian presidential elections at the weekend suggests that Central and Eastern European voters are beginning to reject their left-of-center leaders."

The writer continues: "Politics in the post-communist world thus seems to be entering a third cycle. First, the old communist regimes were toppled by loose coalitions of nationalists, liberal dissidents and economic reformers. Once in power, these alliances started to crumble. Communists, who had remodeled themselves into social democrats, remained the best organized." He says: "But the Left was no more a monolithic force than the anti-communist parties, and it has begun to crack in the face of huge social problems."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The country is virtually broke

Tracy Wilkinson described the election's background in an analysis earlier this week (Sunday): "By most objective standards, Bulgaria has descended into an economic and political crisis unmatched in post-communist Eastern Europe. Once a fertile, breadbasket country, Bulgaria for the first time in its modern history is forced to import food this year -- if it can find the money to pay for it. The country is virtually broke, inflation is averaging 20 percent a month, and the value of the national currency, the lev, plummets almost daily."

The writer says: "In many countries, an economic disaster of this magnitude would prompt rioting in the streets. But the concern on most Bulgarians' minds these days is very basic -- how to survive the coming winter, which threatens food shortages and psychological despair."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Voters gave the governing Socialists a slap in the face

In the British newspaper today, Anthony Robinson in London and Theodor Troev in Sofia write in an analysis: "Bulgarian voters delivered a slap in the face to the governing Socialists." They write: "However, they also showed little enthusiasm for the alternative Union of Democratic Forces."


Commentary today on Russia deals with President Boris Yeltsin's health, potential eruptions in the military, and the continued demotion of the president's former bodyguard, General Aleksandr Korzhakov.

LONDON TIMES: Korzhakov has experienced a spectacular change in fortune

Thomas de Waal writes from Moscow: "In what has become an extremely personal feud, President Yeltsin stripped his former bodyguard and close friend (Korzhakov) of all military (accoutrements) yesterday in a decree issued from his hospital bed."

De Waal concludes: "It has been a spectacular change of fortune for the man who used to be at Mr. Yeltsin's side day and night and once was reckoned to be one of the half-dozen most powerful people in Russia."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Yeltsin canceled all of this week's meetings

Chrystia Freeland writes of "New Health Fears as Yeltsin Suspends Meetings." She says in an analysis: "Yeltsin yesterday canceled all the week's planned meetings to undergo medical tests, and adds: "Doctors and political analysts said the sudden announcement probably signaled a sharp deterioration in the Russian leader's condition or a decision to perform heart bypass surgery earlier than planned."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Would-be successors could use the power ministries as pawns

Charles Dick, director of the Conflict Studies Research Center at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, England, writes in a commentary that the Russian military is fragmented severely and has been cast into turmoil by years of neglect and by increasing impoverishment. Dick writes: "The Kremlin may no longer be able to control the 13 different government agencies that have developed armed forces of their own."

He says: "Most observers believe Mr. Yeltsin, however incapacitated, will hang onto power for as long as possible, raising the risk that his would-be successors will use the power ministries, and even the country's various armed bodies, as political pawns." Dick writes, "These forces are not easily put back in the bottle."