Bulgaria - General Election 05 July 2009
On 28 April 2009 President Georgi Parvanov announced that parliamentary elections would be held on 5 July. The July 2009 elections were the first to be held since the country's accession to the European Union (EU) in January 2007. They were also taking place under the revised electoral law. Previously members of parliament had been elected under an entirely proportional representation system. Henceforth 31 of the 240 members are elected by the first-past-the post (FPTP) system and the rest under the proportional representation system. The original revision of the electoral system included raising the threshold for coalitions to win parliamentary representation from four to eight per cent. But this provision was vetoed by President Georgi Parvanov.
In the previous elections held in July 2005 the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) led the Coalition for Bulgaria (CB) which comprised eight parties. The CB took 82 of the 240 seats at stake. The BSP leader Mr. Sergey Stanishev became Prime Minister and formed a coalition government with the CB the National Movement Simeon II (NMSS 53 seats) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS an ethnic Turkish party which took 34 seats). In October 2006 Mr. Parvanov (BSP) was re-elected in the run-off presidential elections ahead of Mr. Volen Siderov of the ATAKA Party. In October 2008 the NMSS changed its name to National Movement for Stability and Progress (NMSP) and re-elected the former king Simeon Saxe-Coburg as its leader.
Twenty parties and coalitions took part in the 2009 elections. The parties in the outgoing government were challenged by the centre-right opposition force the Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria Party (GERB). The GERB was not represented in the outgoing National Assembly but won the most votes in the June 2009 elections to the European Parliament. Other major contenders included the ATAKA Party the Blue Coalition (BC) and the Order Lawfulness Justice Party (RZS).
Under the country's electoral law candidates benefit from the same immunity as parliamentarians. Shortly before the 2009 elections the courts released from prison several candidates facing serious criminal charges such as embezzlement the trafficking of women or drug dealing. The participation of these candidates raised concerns about the legitimacy and fairness of the vote.
In 2008 the EU froze more than 500 million euros in aid that was destined for improving agriculture and infrastructure. In its view the government was not taking sufficient measures to tackle corruption and organized crime. The country's economy was further damaged by the recent global economic crisis and was expected to shrink by more than 3 per cent in 2009.
The GERB led by Mr. Boyko Borisov Mayor of the capital Sofia promised to work with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to revive the economy and jail all those found guilty of embezzling European Union funds. It pledged to bring accountability to government. The BC - formed by the Union of Democratic Forces and the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria - was co-led by former prime minister Ivan Kostov and Mr. Martin Dimitrov a member of the European Parliament. This centre-right coalition also campaigned on an anti-corruption platform. Mr. Kostov attacked Prime Minister Stanishev for refusing to debate economic issues during the election campaign.
Prime Minister Stanishev (BSP) who once again led the CB ran on the government's record citing the country's accession to the EU. He argued that the GERB and the BC would threaten Bulgarians' social protection through the privatization of the energy and health care sectors and reduction of salaries and pensions.
DPS leader Mr. Ahmed Dogan claimed that supporting the opposition would mean a return to the Revival Process that was used in the late 1980s to assimilate Bulgarian Muslims (both ethnic Bulgarians and ethnic Turks) by forcing them to take Slavic-sounding names. Prime Minister Stanishev accused the DPS of playing the ethnic card. GERB leader Borisov pledged to abolish dual citizenship arguing that it allowed the DPS to get many votes from Bulgarians usually living in Turkey while other Bulgarians abroad were not allowed to vote.
The RZS of Mr. Yane Yanev promised to work for judicial and financial reforms. Mr. Yanev accused the BSP of making a pre-election agreement with Roma leaders to assure itself of receiving the votes of the entire Roma community. The ATAKA Party an ultranationalist party campaigned on an anti-EU platform. It accused the DPS of conducting what its leader Mr. Siderov termed an "anti-Bulgarian policy" and pledged to tackle "islamization" and corruption.
On 5 July 60.95 per cent of 7.1 million eligible voters turned out at the polls. Several irregularities such as vote buying were reported on the election day. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) observed the polls. They concluded that the elections had been generally in accordance with international standards while recommending further efforts to ensure the "integrity of the election process".
Six political entities passed the 4-per-cent threshold required to gain parliamentary representation. The GERB took a total of 116 seats. The parties in the outgoing government - the CB and the DPS - won 40 and 38 seats respectively while the NMSP failed to win parliamentary representation taking only 2.9 per cent of the votes. Mr. Saxe-Coburg stepped down as NMSP leader. The ATAKA Party the BC and the RZS took 21 15 and ten seats respectively. 50 women were elected.
At its inaugural sitting on 14 July the National Assembly elected Ms. Tsetska Tsacheva as its new Speaker. She thus became the first woman to assume the post in Bulgaria. On 16 July the GERB announced that it would form a minority government on its own. On 27 July the National Assembly approved Mr. Borisov's government. It was supported by the ATAKA Party the BC and the RZS.
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