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Bulgaria: Court Denies Registration To Former King's Movement

A Bulgarian court has denied the political movement recently launched by former King Simeon II the right to be officially registered as a political party. The ruling -- which is subject to appeal -- could prevent the movement from contesting the country's 17 June parliamentary elections. Simeon's movement is seen as having a strong chance of winning wide voter support and the decision could seriously affect the outcome of the ballot. RFE/RL correspondent Julia Guechakov reports.

Prague, 24 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Sofia City Court yesterday refused to register the National Movement of Bulgaria's former king, Simeon II, citing what the court said were nine serious violations of the laws on political parties and nonprofit organizations.

In its 10-page ruling, the court said the National Movement's founding members had failed to specify whether they are Bulgarian citizens with voting rights and that some members failed to provide other personal data. The court also noted irregularities in the movement's statutes, including improper dating of some papers.

Hours after the court announced its decision, Plamen Panayotov, secretary of Simeon's movement, told national television that the ruling was "unfounded" and said the movement will appeal:

"We consider that the present decision is unfounded and we are going to appeal within the legally set timetable."

The ruling of a higher administrative court, however, may come too late for the movement to meet a 2 May deadline to register with the Central Electoral Commission to contest the election.

The former king has not commented on the ruling. But some political leaders and analysts were quick to say it was politically motivated and that, coming so close before the ballot, it could be harmful to the country's political stability.

Dimitar Ivanov, also of the National Movement, told RFE/RL that he believes the court is being used as a political instrument to limit the movement's influence and that the ruling risked marring the June election.

"When through legal means, when the judicial power, the courts are being harnessed as a political means to limit a [movement with] great public influence, the elections are being marred. And marred elections give rise to illegitimate rule."

Other political leaders -- while they did not argue with the legal grounds for the court's ruling -- also criticized its timing and saw it as politically motivated.

Mladen Cherveniakov, a senior member of the main opposition Socialist Party, blamed the ruling center-right Union of Democratic Forces, or UDF, of trying through procedural tactics to limit voters' right of choice. Emel Etem of the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms -- the third political force in the country -- was quoted as saying it seemed the UDF was trying to prevent parties which could present a political alternative from contesting the 17 June poll.

A refusal by yet another court yesterday to register a new party -- set up by dissenters from the UDF who have expressed support for Simeon -- did not help calm tempers. The court said the conservative group Ekip also failed to meet criteria for the establishment of political parties.

The UDF denies allegations that the court's ruling was made under political pressure. Dimitar Abadzhiev, a senior UDF member, told RFE/RL that the UDF had hoped the National Movement would be registered in order to learn more about its proposed economic and political goals.

"The president of the UDF, Mr. Ivan Kostov, several days ago expressed our hope as a political party that the National Movement Simeon II will be registered, the more so since we expected that after registration we will hear and see [their] concrete political program and platform."

UDF leader and Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, on a visit to Washington this week, was cited as saying that the UDF -- together with its political allies -- will consider an offer to include Simeon nominees in its own electoral lists, as well as to incorporate some of his ideas into its own program.

Simeon has not made clear whether he himself would run for office. But he has said he will not contest the election as part of a coalition or align himself with another party already registered for the poll. That pledge, if kept, seems to further limit his choices for making a political comeback. Two months ago, Bulgaria's Constitutional Court barred him from running in a presidential election to be held at an unspecified time later this year.

Whatever Simeon's choice of action, there is little doubt that his potential withdrawal would alter both the disposition of forces and the public mood ahead of the June poll.

The movement which Simeon launched earlier this month has not yet formulated a concrete economic platform or come up with possible lists of candidates to run in the election. Simeon has pledged that a government headed by his party will quickly improve Bulgarians' living standards and attract foreign investment. He has also promised to bring ethics to government and quell corruption and political partisanship. But the former monarch who was exiled by Bulgaria's former communist leaders and has lived most of his adult life in Spain has not said exactly how he proposes to achieve those goals.

Despite the vagueness of his promises, many Bulgarian voters appear willing to back Simeon. A recent opinion poll showed that his movement could win up to 12 percent of votes at the polls, compared with some 19 percent for the UDF and around 15 percent for the Socialists. The official BTA news agency said that by noon today (24 April), nearly 300 people had come to Simeon's movement's headquarters to sign a declaration of support and register as members.

In the last legislative elections in 1997, the UDF won a clear majority in parliament. Since then, its support has dwindled because of painful economic reforms that have yet to improve Bulgarians' living standards substantially and a series of corruption allegations against senior party and government officials.

Analysts say that a party headed by Simeon could win the protest votes of those disillusioned with the UDR, as well as the votes of some members of the Socialist Party. It was also seen as likely to draw votes away from smaller political parties, leaving most of them unable to garner the necessary four percent of votes to enter parliament.

Opinion polls also show that the launching of Simeon's movement was likely to increase recent low voter turnout, with nearly 50 percent of voters saying that this time they planned to cast ballots.

Analysts say that one of the most likely results to be expected if Simeon's movement does not make it to the poll is a fall in voter turnout.