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Bulgaria: Anti-Socialists Must Stop Infighting To Survive

Sofia, 5 February 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A top political strategist in Sofia says Bulgaria's fragmented opposition must end its internal squabbling and present a united electoral list in order to survive as a governing party.

Parliamentary elections are expected in mid-April after the Socialists yesterday abandoned their attempt to form a new government. If anti-Socialist forces can present a unified ticket, Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) leader Ivan Kostov would likely be the next popularly-elected prime minister. But opposition groups already are arguing about whose names will appear on the election lists.

Ivan Krastev, director of Sofia's Center for Liberal Strategies, says the UDF and its allies have no room for what he calls "complicated political games and politicking."

Krastev told RFE/RL today that "any type of party games" will be seen by Bulgarian voters as "the same old story as before." He said continued delays in resolving the country's economic crisis would result in new street demonstrations within six months -- this time against the UDF and its allies. Rather than calling for elections, Krastev says future demonstrators would demand constitutional reforms to transform the country either into a presidential republic or to bring back the exiled monarchy.

Krastev says a new political rule has emerged out of nationwide anti-Socialist demonstrations during the past month.

"Everything that seems similar to what happened in the last seven years is now forbidden," he says.

The UDF is not a single unified party. Rather, it is a loose coalition of more than 15 parties. Two other groupings, the so-called "People's Union" and the mostly ethnic-Turkish "Movement for Rights and Freedoms" (MRF), have also worked together with the UDF in the past.

But it was division between the MRF and the UDF that brought about the demise of former UDF Prime Minister Philip Dimitrov's government in 1992 after less than a year in power.

In contrast, President Petar Stoyanov was able to win elections last year by gathering support from all anti-Socialist groups under the umbrella of the so-called "United Democratic Forces" (ODS).

UDF leader Ivan Kostov appears to have learned the lessons from past. He is now working with the UDF's regional councils to restructure the UDF into a party. Krastev predicts that Kostov will try to remove "certain old faces" from the UDF lists in order to secure a parliamentary group that would allow him to govern safely.

Krastev also predicts that separate lists for the UDF, the People's Union and the MRF will result in failure for the anti-Socialist forces.

He says that a future government under Kostov can be expected to place a top priority on nurturing capitalism through market reforms -- pro-business approach that would help develop a middle class through privatization and by opening the country to foreign investment.

In the meantime, President Stoyanov's office announced today that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has welcomed the political accord that cleared the way for elections in April. The president's office says an IMF team is expected in Sofia as soon as Stoyanov appoints a caretaker cabinet. The team is expected to negotiate details on a proposed currency board that is seen as a last-ditch effort to stop the free fall of the Bulgarian currency. There has been no immediate confirmation from the IMF on the report.

The IMF has said in the past that it would not loan any more money to Bulgaria until a stable government takes office, a currency board is implemented and real progress is made toward market reforms.

Meanwhile, former Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev today called for the voluntary dissolution of the Socialist Party. Krastev predicts a battle between hard-liners allied with outgoing Prime Minister Zhan Videnov and those who side with BSP leader Georgi Parvanov and the outgoing Interior Minister Nikolai Dobrev.

Dobrev, the BSP's prime minister designate until yesterday, has continued to issue harsh statements against the corrupt elements in the BSP that are blamed for the country's economic collapse.

For rest of Bulgaria, the immediate problem is how to find food and survive a growing spiral of hyper-inflation. Stoyanov said yesterday that a resolution to the "deep economic crisis" cannot be expected within "two, three, or (even) five months." Stoyanov says he has never promised that living conditions will improve in the short term.

"We are faced with many, many difficulties created by the governance so far," he says.

Krastev concludes: "At least we now know the timing for moves to start solving our problems."