Bulgarian Socialists snub ex-king CNN - 2005/6/29
Bulgaria's Socialists have ruled out a coalition with ex-king Simeon Saxe-Coburg as prime minister, leaving little hope for a quick end to a post-election stalemate threatening the country's EU accession path.
The opposition Socialists won Saturday's poll but fell well short of a majority and are looking to Saxe-Coburg's ruling National Movement for Simeon II (NMS), which came second, and other parties as potential government partners.
The former boy-king who returned from half a century of communist exile to take power in 2001, has insisted he must lead any "grand coalition" with the Socialists. But Socialist leader Sergei Stanishev says he must step down as prime minister.
"Any future coalition should be led by the party which won most votes in the elections. Bulgaria has no time to waste and we cannot allow ourselves to get stuck in haggling," Stanishev said after a post-election strategy meeting.
Asked if his party would consider a prime minister from outside its ranks, he said: "No".
Analysts say the leftists' stance signals a protracted power struggle with Saxe-Coburg, which could endanger Bulgaria's ambitions to join the EU in 2007.
Amid growing anti-enlargement sentiment in the EU after the French and Dutch rejected the bloc's charter, Brussels has warned it will keep Bulgaria back for a year if it does not hurry through a mountain of reforms.
Any EU postponement would not only be a blow to investors eager to see Bulgaria join the euro zone, but also to Bulgarians weary of the sacrifices they have made to join the EU.
On Monday, the EU said the "clock was ticking" for the poor Balkan state to form a government and get started on reforms including the overhaul of an inefficient judicial system open to corruption.
Bulgarian media chided the former monarch for his opposition to joining a coalition he does not lead.
"Even kings are not married to their thrones for eternity. In republics prime ministers come and go," wrote Georgi Traikov, deputy editor in chief for the Bulgarian daily Trud. "The key is to overcome personal interests in the name of the state."
The Socialists have been rejected by small center-right parties. They must now depend on the NMS, who garnered around 20 percent compared with just over 30 percent for the Socialists, or try to poach random deputies from other parties.
The mostly ethnic-Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), third with 12.68 percent, has backed the Socialists, but together they need five or six more deputies for a majority in the 240-seat parliament.
Analysts say participation by the economically prudent NMS in a Socialist-led cabinet could temper more risky plans to hike public wages and social spending by the leftists, whose last stint in power ended in a disastrous 1997 economic meltdown.
Saxe-Coburg's party, which lost elections due to public discontent with poverty and crime despite stabilizing the economy, could compromise in the end, they said.
"The NMS is grudgingly accepting the reality of the election and the priorities of EU accession," said Ognian Shentov, head of the Center for the Study of Democracy.
"They need time to make this U-turn."