Bulgarians go to the polls Sunday (17 June) in an election that has already radically altered the way politics has worked in the country since 1990. A new political group backed by former King Simeon II is expected to dominate the vote. But analysts say Simeon's movement is not likely to win an outright majority -- forcing coalition talks with either the ruling United Democratic Forces or the opposition Socialist Party. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz reports that the party of ethnic Turks may also join a post-election coalition, even if it fails to win seats in Bulgaria's next legislature.
Prague, 14 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- All recent opinion polls in Bulgaria show that the National Movement Simeon II -- a political group created only two months ago by the country's former king -- is likely to win the most votes in Sunday's (17 June) general elections.
A poll published this week shows that 38 percent of potential voters back Simeon's movement. The poll forecasts that Prime Minister Ivan Kostov's ruling United Democratic Forces (UDF) will get about 18 percent of the vote, while former communists in the Bulgarian Socialist Party have support from about 15 percent of eligible voters.
The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), a group led by Ahmed Dogan that represents the ethnic Turkish and Roma communities, has been the third largest party in parliament since the end of one-party rule in 1990. But polls indicate that support for Dogan's party is near the minimum 4 percent needed to win parliamentary seats.
Opinion-poll analysts point out that their projections are based on a relatively high voter turnout of about 80 percent. They say that a lower turnout likely would mean fewer votes for Simeon's movement and probably a higher share of the vote for Dogan's MRF and Kostov's UDF.
Whatever the turnout, it appears clear ahead of Sunday's vote that Simeon's presence in politics will cut into the support base of both the UDF and the MRF.
Most analysts agree that a coalition government is likely to comprise of Simeon's movement and at least one other party.
Fiona Mullen, an expert on Bulgaria for the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, tells RFE/RL that she expects a closer race between the UDF and Simeon's group than this week's poll indicates.
"Our forecast is that it is going to be very close between the Simeon National Movement and the United Democratic Forces. Obviously, we know that Simeon is still ahead in the polls. But I think the great uncertainty is the number of people who haven't yet decided [who they will vote for] -- or if they're going to vote at all."
Mullen says the Economist Intelligence Unit is among those predicting a post-election coalition government that includes Simeon's movement, Kostov's UDF, and, possibly, Dogan's MRF.
"It looks like it will be very difficult for [Simeon] to get an absolute majority. We think there will be a coalition between the Simeon National Movement and the United Democratic Forces. Probably Simeon would [also] want Dogan's party, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. What would be interesting is how those [cabinet] portfolios are distributed. And that's much more difficult to predict [before the election results are known.]"
Neither the UDF nor the Socialists have ruled out the possibility of forming a coalition government with Simeon's movement. For his part, Simeon has not excluded possibly joining forces with members of the MRF in a coalition cabinet -- even if Dogan's party fails on 17 June to attain the 4 percent necessary to win seats in parliament.
Political analysts say that if Dogan's party does not win parliamentary seats, MRF representation in the government would contribute to stability in Bulgaria. They warn that without political representation in Sofia, some ethnic Turks who support Dogan's party may turn to more radical groups.
But because of public feuds between Prime Minister Kostov and Dogan, the inclusion of the MRF in a coalition with the UDF certainly would be an unusual grouping. The shaky history between the two political leaders goes back to 1992, when Dogan withdrew from an earlier coalition with the UDF and triggered the collapse of Bulgaria's first anti-communist government.
On 12 June, Bulgaria's popular President Petar Stoyanov threw his support squarely behind Kostov's governing UDF. Stoyanov said the policies of the UDF during the last four years have been the right course to follow -- both politically and economically -- in order to bring the country back from the brink of catastrophe.
When Kostov's UDF took power after winning an absolute majority in the 1997 general election, Bulgaria's annual inflation rate was about 1,000 percent. The country was isolated both politically and economically because of the policies of outgoing Prime Minister Zhan Videnov's Socialist government.
Two days ago (12 June), Stoyanov reminded Bulgarian voters how much Kostov's government had done to improve the situation since early 1997.
"Whoever takes power after the elections -- and this is not a forecast -- but regardless of whether the UDF continues to rule or another party in coalition with the UDF governs, the next government should use the achievements of the UDF as the basis of its work."
Georgi Parvanov, the leader of the Socialist Party, also is leaving open the possibility of coalition talks with Simeon. Parvanov said this week that political life in Bulgaria has been drastically altered by Simeon's movement. He said that with three main political forces in the country, nobody should underestimate the role of Simeon's group.
Simeon was six years old when he ascended to the throne after his father, King Boris III, died in 1943. Simeon was expelled from Bulgaria after World War II, when the country was firmly under Soviet domination. He has never recognized a 1946 referendum that abolished the monarchy and sent him into exile.
When Simeon was asked if he would try to reinstate the monarchy -- a move that would require constitutional revisions that are opposed by more than three-fourths of Bulgarians -- he said only that it is not in his plans for now.
The former king has said that he will not take a seat in the parliament himself -- a position that leaves open the possibility of a later claim to the Bulgarian throne if the monarchy is reinstated.
But as analyst Mullen notes, Simeon also has refused to clarify whether he intends to become prime minister.
"It seems to me that Simeon doesn't want to be made prime minister. I'm not sure, but he certainly hasn't said he definitely wants to be prime minister. I think maybe he would realize the sensitivities of having an ex-monarch with so much power. It sounds like he may not actually take up the post of prime minister."
Simeon has spent most of his life in Spain working as a financial consultant. He has not yet revealed the nature of his business or details of his personal wealth.