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About Bulgaria: Political Environment

The current president is Georgi Parvanov, elected on the ticket of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). The ruling coalition comprises the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), National Movement Simeon II (NMS-II) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), which are the only parties represented in the cabinet. Sergey Stanishev, chairman of BSP, presides over the cabinet, with other important figures including Economy and Energy Minister Rumen Ovcharov (BSP), Finance Minister Plamen Oresharski (non-partisan), Foreign Minister Ivaylo Kalfin (BSP), Interior Minister Rumen Petkov (BSP), and Justice Minister Georgi Petkanov (NMS-II). BSP has become a modern socialist party, with pro-market policies, even though it maintains an emphasis on social policies, very much like Spains PSOE. NMS-II is a centrist party without a clear manifesto, as it depends heavily on its leader, Simeon Saxe-Coburg. They have promoted market liberalisation and austere fiscal policies. MRF is a centrist-liberal party that represents the ethnic Turkish minority (around 8%). MRFs policies have been mostly focused on agriculture (holding the respective cabinet portfolio) and particularly the tobacco industry.

Although the ruling coalition was made with a lot of hard work, it has the potential to remain stable. It took around 90 days to form a new cabinet, after two rounds of negotiations were failed by BSP and NMS-II respectively. In the end, the common tagline was EU accession, so as long as Bulgaria has more to do about it, the three parties will overcome inner differences. This doesnt mean that conflicts do not surface frequently, however, as the parties were open rivals during the elections in June 2005. As there is no viable alternative to the tree-party coalition, the majority of the public wishes it to stay in power, despite the low approval ratings of the cabinet. Besides, the ruling coalition controls two thirds in parliament, so it cannot be brought down from the outside.

The opposition performed very weakly at the parliamentary elections and has only a limited influence, seen mostly at local elections. Right-wing parties continue to be in disarray, as three power centres have emerged the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), Democrats for Strong Bulgaria (DSB) and Bulgarian Peoples Union (BPU). DSB is a spin-off from UDF, taking the more conservative factions, grouping around Ivan Kostov, former UDF chairman and prime minister. UDF changed its leadership in October, bringing Petar Stoyanov, former president, to the chairman post, after the policies of former leader Nadezhda Mihailova turned out to be disastrous for the party. BPU is a coalition of the Union of Free Democrats (UFD), BZNS-PU and VMRO. Coalition ties are very weak and the only thing holding BPU together is that the three parties have just 13 MPs, while at least 10 are needed to have a parliamentary caucus. The remaining opposition is in the face of Attack, a new formation, representing nationalist and xenophobic circles. The party relies on spurring ethnic hatred, particularly against the Roma and Turkish minorities. Despite concerns on its entrance in parliament, Attack has already started to lose pace, as because of inner conflicts, one quarter of its MPs already left the party.

The main task of the ruling coalition is to complete the accession of Bulgaria to EU. This has already become a hard task, as the European Commission criticised heavily the government for numerous areas, where urgent measures are required. Further delays may slow down Bulgarias accession to EU, eventually leading to the activation of a safeguard clause, postponing membership to 2008. The other major problem, connected closely to EU accession, is combating corruption and organised crime. The latter has taken an unprecedented height, after one of Bulgarias top bankers was assassinated. The visible incapacity of law enforcement agencies to deal with crime has reduced considerably confidence and increased political tension.

The next general elections are to take place in 2009, and the probability for early elections is very small, if non-existent. The next presidential elections are due in 2006. President Parvanov has a good chance at re-election, given that he is the only elected official with approval ratings above 60%. However, he may have problems with Simeon Saxe-Coburg decides also to stand for office. The next local elections are due to take place in 2007.

Bulgaria has been a member of NATO since 2004. It signed the Accession Treaty with EU on 25 April 2005 and is set to become a fully fledged member in 2007. Accession may be delayed by one year, to 2008, if the government fails to implement thorough reforms in vital areas. Bulgaria is part of the US-led coalition in Iraq and maintains a small peacekeeping force, which will be withdrawn by the end of 2005.

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