Bulgarian leftist group must seek ruling partners after poll victory Financial_Times - 2005/6/27
Bulgaria appeared set for several weeks of political horse-trading after the opposition Socialist party claimed victory in Saturday's general election but fell well short of an overall majority in the 240-seat parliament.

A prolonged delay in forming a stable coalition government would undermine an already tight timetable for carrying out constitutional changes and other judicial reforms and risk a year's postponement of European Union accession.

The constitutional changes, aimed at making the judiciary more accountable, require a two-thirds majority in parliament.

Bulgaria expects to join the Union on January 1 2007, together with Romania, but this may be postponed for a year if reforms fall behind schedule. A European Commission team is to arrive in Sofia in late August to prepare a progress report, due in November, that would confirm the date of Bulgaria's accession.

According to near-final results, the Socialist party-led Coalition for Bulgaria won 31 per cent of the vote and at least 80 seats, ahead of the governing National Movement for Simeon II, with 20 per cent and about 54 seats.

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms, an ethnic Turkish party that has held the balance of power in most post-communist governments, came third with 12 per cent of the vote, giving it about 30 seats.

Sergey Stanishev, the Socialist party leader, signalled he would try to form a broad-based coalition with the MRF and the right-of-centre NMS in order to accelerate reforms. "We are ready to reach out to any democratic party in the name of stability," he said yesterday.

Simeon Saxe-Coburg, the outgoing prime minister, who governed with the support of the MRF, welcomed the offer: "It would make sense to speak of a broader spectrum coalition rather than turning right or left."

But Mr Saxe-Coburg, the country's senior political figure, who steered Bulgaria into Nato and has overseen preparations for EU accession, is expected to insist he remains prime minister in a Socialist-led coalition government.

"A grand coalition including the Socialists and the NMS would be good for the EU accession agenda," said Ognian Shentov, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy. "But the problem is who gets to lead the government."

Mr Stanishev, a 39-year-old historian first elected to parliament in 2001, already faces problems in keeping different Coalition for Bulgaria factions united.

Georgi Parvanov, a former Socialist leader who serves as the country's non-executive president, is expected this week to give Mr Stanishev a seven-day mandate to try to form a government.

The emergence of Ataka (Attack) nationalist party, which won 8.2 per cent of the vote and at least 22 seats, also poses a potential threat to stability. Led by Volen Siderov, the party campaigned on a racist platform, targeting the Roma minority, which makes up 4 per cent of the population.

"Ataka collected a backlash vote from people discontented with the political elite," said Andrey Raichev, an opinion pollster. "But all the other parties have made clear they won't collaborate with Siderov in parliament."

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