Borisov swaggers to easy first-round victory

By bne IntelliNews October 29, 2007

Nadia Damon in Sofia -

The incumbent mayor of Sofia, Boiko Borisov, secured a widely predicted landslide win over his rivals in the first round of Bulgaria's local elections on Sunday, October 28.

The popular action-man figure, who was once the bodyguard of Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, scored an easy victory over his nearest rivals - Martin Zaimov and Brigo Asparuhov - who came second and third, respectively.

The final tallies showed that Borisov bagged 53.43% of votes in Bulgaria's capital, placing him beyond the 50% cut-off which would have seen a second round of voting next weekend.

The joint Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) and the Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria (DSB) candidate Zaimov, the former chief of Bulgaria's currency board who now serves on the board of Expressbank (the Bulgarian arm of French banking group Societe Generale), trailed with 17.77% of the vote. Borisov's other rival, Socialist nominee and former intelligence chief Asparuhov, secured 15.48%.

Borisov's GERB party, which he founded in 2006, is on target for more seats in the capital: according to available results, Yordan Tomov has secured a seat on the municipal council after securing 56.93% of the votes in the Sofia's Iskar district. Several more of the party's candidates are also expected to contest seats in the second round. Securing more spots on Sofia's municipal council is seen as being vital for Borisov's future plans, which many pundits see as a role in government. During his two-year tenure Borisov blamed his lack of progress in tackling city issues such as rubbish collection and traffic congestion on a lack of support at this level.

Borisov beyond the capital

While Borisov's own influence looks set to grow in the capital, his party - Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (known as GERB) - has made serious inroads into weakening the coalition government's influence throughout the country. With its crime-fighting and anti-corruption policies, GERB's success in the May European parliament elections (it topped the polls with 21.68% of the votes and won five seats), demonstrated that Bulgarians see GERB as a party capable of implementing change. This is now being borne out across the country and Borisov's party's strong results will boost his credibility as a serious contender for government.

Regional numbers will be closely monitored in the capital. At government level, the coalition, which recently fended off a vote of no-confidence is sure to lose more ground. When the results of the second round of elections shake out, any weaknesses in the coalition will be brutally exposed. The Bulgarian government, which is made up of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gothe's NMSP (National Movement for Stability and Progress) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, has lost a number of seats to GERB.

Joint GERB and VMRO (the Bulgarian National Movement) candidate, Slavcho Atanasov, matched Borisov's performance with an easy first-round triumph in Bulgaria's second-largest city Plovdiv, securing some 55.9% of votes (with 81% of the count officially registered), seeing off Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) candidate Zahari Georgiev. Meanwhile, Dobrich mayor, Detelina Nikolova, who ditched the NMSP in favour of GERB, won 64.28% of votes to retain her post. Socialist candidate Ivan Dobrev only managed to achieve 10.25%.

Some 15 Bulgarian cities will go back to the polling booths next Sunday for run-off races. These include Burgas, whose citizens will have the final say over Borisov's chosen candidate Dimitar Nikolov, who is backed by a number of rightist parties. He goes to the run-off in the southern Black Sea city with around a 45.8% share of the vote. In Vidin, GERB candidate Rumen Vidov, who took the top spot with 40.52%, is expected to go head-to-head with current mayor Ivan Tsenov (28.65%) in the second round. While in Russe, first-placed independent runner Bozhidar Yotov (46.15%) will meet GERB's Vanyo Tanov (23.09%). In Stara Zagora, battle will commence between the incumbent Evgenii Zhelev (44.8%) and GERB candidate Svetlin Tanchev (32.4%).

Borisov was not the only mayoral candidate to enjoy continued support: in spite of two bomb scares in the city, voters turned out for long-serving Varna mayor Kiril Yordanov, who ran as an independent with the backing of the Bulgarian Socialist Party. He was re-elected for a third term after securing 56.6% of votes. While in Kardzhali, where the population is predominantly made up of ethnic Turks, existing mayor Hassan Azis, was re-elected with a convincing 61.58% share of the votes. Dora Yankova, who stood for the National Association Bulgarian Heritage and the BSP, also retains her seat in Smolyan.

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