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Western Press Review: Bulgarian Elections -- Victory For Reform

Prague, 21 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - Western commentators are in agreement that the victory of anti-socialists in Saturday's Bulgarian elections was a mandate for reform in a country roiled by crime, a collapsed economy and a confused foreign policy.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Opposition wins by a landslide in Bulgaria

"Washington Post" writer Jonathan Randall puts it this way in a news analysis published today: "An opposition coalition committed to carrying out free-market reforms won a landslide victory in Bulgaria's early parliamentary elections, providing a rare optimistic note in the Balkans' often somber post-communist economic and political history."

Randall continues: "The results were seen as formal ratification of the daily demonstrations that finally forced the Socialists to accept early elections almost two years before their mandate ended."

LONDON INDEPENDENT: New government faces challenges

Tony Barber, Europe editor, says today in an analysis: "With reformers in control of the presidency, government and parliament, Bulgaria may have its best chance yet to accelerate the pace of change and catch up with countries such as Hungary and Poland. The Socialists, who have controlled most of Bulgaria's nine governments since the end of one-party rule in 1989, proved to be much more reluctant reformers than their Polish and Hungarian ex-communist colleagues."

Barber writes: "With the Bulgarian economy in crisis, few gave the ex-communists much of a chance in Saturday's vote. However, the new government's honeymoon with the public is likely to be short-lived, given that the UDF (Union of Democratic Forces) will have no choice but to introduce painful measures to begin with."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Bulgaria faces tough leadership

In today's edition, Wolfgang Koydl writes: "Not even his close friends would describe (UDF leader Ivan Kostov) as a nice man. He is considered curt, arrogant, impatient and painfully ambitious. But maybe these are all qualities which a future Bulgarian prime minister should bring along to set the small Balkan state, with a seven-year delay, on the course to reform. The new government has a stony path ahead of it that cannot be overcome with hypersensitive, light-footed little steps. Not only is Kostov similar in character to Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, but also in his economic policy he wants to embark on an equally tough course. Besides he has hardly another choice."

Koydl says: "Kostov's party friends are quite glad that the election victory of the Democrats did not accrue even higher results. Otherwise, they think, the designated head of government would be in too high spirits. Even now it might be hard for him to take the advice of the daily 'Trud' -- 'Don't think you are unique or irreplaceable.' "

Kodyl writes: "Such a clear majority means the Union of Democratic Forces could rule without allies who might be tempted to question the stiff terms set by international lending institutions for continuing to bail out the heavily indebted and economically mismanaged nation."

LIBERATION: No more communism in Bulgaria

Marc Semo writes today in an account in the French daily that "Bulgaria is finished with Communism." He says: "It's a vote of reason which is nourished by an absence of a credible alternative. But there is no (cause for) euphoria, stresses Nadege Ragaru, a researcher at Ceri (The Center for International Studies and Research) and a specialist on Bulgaria."

LE FIGARO: Bulgaria becomes a part of Europe

In the French newspaper today, Stephane Kovacs comments, "Yesterday Bulgaria became a part of Europe." She writes: "In the midst of the dancing and singing of the Last Waltz (an anti-communist song) in front of the Palace of Culture, President Petr Stoyanov declared -- 'Today everyone has the right to dance and rejoice. But tomorrow we should set to work, because plenty of difficulties lie ahead of us.'"

FINANCIAL TIMES: Voters in Bulgaria punish Socialists

In the British newspaper, Karin Hope and Theodor Troev write in a news analysis today: "Voters appeared to have punished the Socialists for lax economic policies which pushed the country toward hyperinflation at the start of the year and allowed a series of shadowy financial holding groups to gain control of banks and trading activity and to operate protection rackets in almost every Bulgarian town."

The writers say: "The Alliance for National Salvation, a recently formed coalition of monarchists, ethnic Turks and environmentalists, won 7.5 percent of the vote. However, some supporters of King Simeon, who lives in Spain but returned last week for a one-day election visit, voted for the UDF because of lingering mistrust of the pro-Turkish party."

They conclude: "With the UDF confirmed in power, Mr. Kostov is expected to take over as prime minister from Mr. Stefan Sofianski, who will return to his old job as mayor of Sofia."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Bulgarian conservatives win a bitter victory

Karl Grobe comments today: "The Bulgarian conservatives have won a bitter victory. Bitter is the legacy which they are taking on, bitter is the small participation in the elections, bitter, finally, the announced withdrawal of the interim prime minister Stefan Sofiyanski to be Sofia's lord mayor. The absolute majority in the assembly of the Bulgarian parliament is fairly firm, but the near future of democratic reforms is based on a crumbling foundation. Euphoria may enthrall the leading politicians of the multi-party coalition called the United Democratic Force. One look at the troubles --a strong understatement-- of the Balkan state can immediately (lead them, however,) to revert to cats' mewling."

Grobe concludes: "When the resignations and distrust appear, then the arduous pathfinder task of the new government to Europe will be even more difficult."