Bulgaria's ruling party wins presidential run-off

By bne IntelliNews October 31, 2011

Branimir Kondov in Sofia -

Two years after taking power from a Socialist-led coalition, Bulgaria's right-of-centre GERB party on October 30 captured another major stronghold of opposition Socialists, the seat of the head of state, in a run-off vote that was regarded as a stamp of approval for the party's reformist policies.

The victory of former construction entrepreneur and GERB's regional development minister Posen Plevneliev in the second round of the presidential elections over the Socialist-backed candidate, former foreign minister and a current MEP Ivailo Kalfin, will enable GERB led by Prime Minister Boiko Borisov to tighten his hold on power as it struggles to combat corruption and organised crime, maintain fiscal stability and the tackle economic crisis. "The way in which the Bulgarian people voted backed stability in Bulgaria," Borisov told local TV7 station on election night.

Parallel counts by pollsters gave Plevneliev 53-54% of the vote against 46-47% for Kalfin in the run-off. In the first round held on October 23 and contested by 18 presidential candidates, Plevneliev won 40% of the vote while Kalfin had 29%. "GERB succeeded in keeping the voter's trust after two years in power - something that has not happened in the last 20 years," 24 Chasa daily quoted the head of Sova Harris polling agency Vasil Tonchev as saying.

Veto power

Though largely ceremonial, the post of the Bulgarian president carries limited yet important executive powers linked to the foreign policy, the security services and the military. A major power of the president is to delay legislation adopted by parliament by vetoing it and asking parliament to amend it, although the legislators can override the presidential veto and pass the disputed laws in their original form. GERB, which won 116 of the 240 seats in parliament in the general election held in 2009, relies on support from several independents to pass laws.

Most recently, outgoing President Georgi Parvanov elected on a Socialist ticket in 2006 for a second and final five-year term of office, vetoed amendments to the Diplomatic Service Bill proposed by the GERB government that banned former agents of the Communist-era secret services from serving as Bulgarian ambassadors abroad. As a commander-in-chief of the Bulgarian armed forces, Parvanov has also been at odds with the GERB government and its defence minister over the promotion of army generals and the appointment of a new head of the military intelligence service. Speaking to reporters on election night, Defence Minister Anyu Angelov said he hoped for an improved dialogue on armed forces policies with the new president.

Now, with Parvanov stepping down and the threat of a presidential veto expected to wane, Borisov will find it easier to push through legislation addressing the fight against corruption and organised crime more adequately.

Plevneliev, sitting side by side with Borisov at GERB's news conference on election night, said the priorities in the new president's agenda include reforms in the justice, education and healthcare sectors, pension reform and business incentives. Bulgaria's failure to adequately reform its graft-prone and slow judiciary has repeatedly drawn fire from the European Commission and undermined public trust in the country's judicial system, blocking its accession to the EU's passport-free Schengen Area.

Even though the Bulgarian president has no direct influence on the country's economic policies, Plevneliev has said in an interview for the Sofia-based Novinite.com that Bulgaria needs investments in sectors with high added value, which are "resistant to crisis, bring good revenues and not just create but also guarantee jobs."

Directing fresh investment into the manufacturing sector and the increasing of energy efficiency should also become a priority, Plevneliev has said.

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