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Bulgaria: New Parliament Convenes Tomorrow

Prague, 6 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Pro-market reformers in Bulgaria are set to move into parliament tomorrow, marking the first time since 1992 that anti-Communist forces will control Sofia's legislature.

With his coalition winning 137 of 240 parliamentary seats in elections last month, Prime Minister-designate Ivan Kostov is assured of heading the next government.

Several ministers from the current caretaker cabinet are expected to stay on in their posts. Among them are Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev and Vice Prime Minister Alexander Bozhkov.

But it could be another two weeks before a Kostov cabinet is formally named, approved by the parliament and can begin work. In the meantime, Kostov has been working to secure even broader backing for his planned economic reforms.

Kostov, the leader of the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), held separate meetings yesterday with each of the new parliamentary groups. Talks centered on a multi-party "Declaration of National Consensus" that backs plans to stabilize the national currency and steer the country off the road to economic isolation.

The declaration is expected to be among the first items debated by the new parliament. It endorses an International Monetary Fund (IMF) recommendation for a currency board to control monetary policy. It supports the opening of Soviet-era secret police files on political leaders. It also calls for tough measures against organized crime and backs Bulgaria's bid for membership in both NATO and the European Union.

Support for the declaration from several political parties could help protect Kostov from a populist backlash against reforms in the future. Analysts say Kostov will have only a short time in office before public support for "shock therapy" reform starts to wane.

Kostov yesterday discussed the declaration with his strongest political opponent -- Georgi Parvanov, leader of the former communists in the Socialist Party (BSP).

Parvanov said later that the BSP supports most of the points in the declaration. But he said the former Communists remain opposed to Bulgarian membership in NATO. Parvanov also was hesitant on the idea of opening secret police files, saying that the BSP would, instead, present its own plan.

The three small political groups in the parliament say they will support the declaration. Those groups include the populist Bulgarian Business Bloc, the Turkish-monarchist Alliance for National Salvation, and Socialist defectors in EuroLeft.

Meanwhile, battle lines already are being drawn for parliamentary debates on the proposed currency board, which is expected to be introduced by July 1.

Caretaker Economic Policy Minister Krasimir Angarski said yesterday that the Bulgarian currency, the lev, should be tied to the German mark. But Kostov criticized the idea today, saying that it would be better to peg the exchange rate to the dollar.

National Bank Governor Lyubomir Filipov is quoted in the Bulgarian press this week as saying that he could resign as early as tomorrow. But he says he first wants to be sure that all steps are completed for the transition to the currency board.

Filipov said the resignation of the central bank's entire board was a condition for forming the currency board -- a panel of Bulgarian and foreign officials that will control monetary policy.

Implementation of the currency board is a key condition set by the IMF for disbursement of an emergency $657 million loan to Bulgaria.