Bulgaria - Political parties

Bulgaria did not develop the welter of political parties which most of the other post-Communist societies have enjoyed—or suffered. The fact that Bulgaria's "velvet revolution" was a two-stage affair, the first part of which was an internal coup within the Communist party, left the communists, particularly the reformist wing, with strong public support. Renamed the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) in 1990, the party did surprisingly well in the 1991 elections, gaining 53% of the vote. In 1994 they won a majority in the parliamentary elections, but fell out of favor after two years of particularly disastrous economic policies that reduced their popular support to 10% by the end of 1996. Their candidate for the Presidency, Ivan Marazov, received 38.9% of the vote in the November 1996 election compared to UDF candidate Peter Stoyanov's 61.1%. Facing an angry electorate and unable to form a new government, their prime minister, Zhan V. Videnov, resigned a month later. In the April 1997 parliamentary elections that followed, they lost power altogether, winning only 58 seats in Bulgaria's 240 seat parliament.

The largest vote-getter with 137 seats was the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), a collection of 15 previously independent groups. Its leader, Ivan Kostov, a former finance minister termed forceful by some and arrogant by others, became his party's nominee for prime minister. The UDF formed an alliance with several smaller parties and called itself the United Democratic Forces (ODS). Their victory was tempered by the fact that only 59% of the electorate came to the polls.

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) took 19 seats with 7.6% of the vote. The DPS primarily represents the interests of Bulgaria's large Turkish minority (about 10% of the population), which was subjected to savage, even bloody repression, during the Zhivkov years, and which still excites much nationalist antipathy among many Bulgarians. The economic crisis caused by the Socialists disproportionately affected the employment of people from ethnic minorities.

Euroleft, a small party of former Socialists, won 5.5% of the vote and took 14 seats in the parliament. The Bulgarian Business Block won 4.9% of the vote and the remaining 12 seats.

In April 2001, the National Movement for Simeon II (NDS) was formed. Owing to voter disillusion with corruption and high unemployment, the UDF lost the June 2001 parliamentary elections to the NDS, and former king Simeon II (Saxe-Coburg) became prime minister. His advisors have experience with Western finance, but were inexperienced in government. The distribution of seats in the National Assembly following the 17 June 2001 elections was as follows: NDS, 120 seats; ODS, 51 seats; Coalition for Bulgaria (a coalition lead by the BSP), 48 seats; and the DPS, 21 seats. As of the end of 2002, the Saxe-Coburg government was criticized for not raising living standards and for not making enough progress on fighting corruption, and it lost seats in the National Assembly. Seating as of March 2003 was: NDS, 110; ODS, 50; Coalition for Bulgaria, 48; DPS, 20; and 12 independents. The next parliamentary elections are due in mid-2005, and presidential elections are due in November 2006.

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