Bulgarians Say: More of the Same, PleaseViews on BG | October 25, 2011, Tuesday // 09:37| views
With most of the votes counted, it is clear that voters in Bulgaria's local and presidential elections have given a thumbs-up to the status quo.
Rosen Plevneliev, the candidate of Boyko Borisov, the prime minister, did not get the majority of votes he needed to win the presidency outright yesterday and will face his Socialist rival, Ivaylo Kalfin, in a run-off next Sunday. But his first-round score of 40% should be enough to see him through.
Strikingly, in both the presidential and the local polls, Mr Borisov's party, Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) was able to hang on to almost the same share of the vote it received in the last general election, two years ago. This is despite Bulgaria's increasingly dismal economic outlook and an election campaign that was punctuated with some nasty episodes of racially charged rioting.
In fact, most of the major voting blocs had good news to report. Mr Kalfin's 30% score yesterday, although it is unlikely to win him the presidency, is a major improvement on the Socialists' performance in the last parliamentary elections. And Meglena Kuneva, Bulgaria's European commissioner in Brussels, exceeded all expectations, winning 14% of the vote on a technocratic, liberal ticket.
Happily, that suggests that even if voters are dissatisfied, they do not believe the answer lies with the far right. Volen Siderov, presidential candidate for Ataka, the anti-Roma party that hoped to do well out of last month's rioting, won less than 4% yesterday. The ethnic-Turkish party Votes for Rights and Freedoms also underperformed, with much of its base choosing to stay at home after a series of rows within the party.
"The extremists weren't able to capitalise on the anger resulting from the weak economy and the rioting," says Kiril Avramov, a political analyst. He predicts Ms Kuneva's unexpected success will lead to the emergence of a new, centrist project in Bulgarian politics.
The result reinforces Mr Borisov's mandate for the next two years. Without the threat of a presidential veto, Bulgaria's strongman prime minister is free to pursue his plans to improve Bulgaria's creaking transport infrastructure and pursue an eye-catching anti-corruption agenda.
It won't be easy. As the riots showed, road-building programmes mean little when unemployment is on the rise and slow growth threatens to turn into recession. And, as widespread allegations of vote-buying in these elections show, there is much to be done on corruption too.