Bulgaria's Presidential Hopefuls: Meet the Odd Ones Out (Part 1)

Novinite Insider | October 17, 2016, Monday // 14:30|  views

The candidacy of Plamen Oresharski (L) and his running mate Danail Papazov was seen by many as a surprise. File photo, BGNES

There are as many as twenty-one presidential pairs running the forthcoming elections in Bulgaria, all competing to take over the office of President.

While a head of state does not enjoy too many powers, but virtually serving as a broker between institutions and a key stakeholder in shaping the country's agenda and vision, being able to call consultations, veto bills, and make key appointments.

Novinite has so far given detailed information only about five of the candidates - those either considered front-runners or being somewhat linked to the governing coalition. We have also adhere to data from the first poll published in October which gave an edge to those candidates. These include Tsetska Tsacheva (GERB), Rumen Radev (BSP), Krasimir Karakachanov (backed by nationalist parties), Ivaylo Kalfin (ABV), Traycho Traykov (Reformist Bloc) and Tatyana Doncheva (Movement 21).

Going down the list, the apparent "losers" should not be underestimated, though, as some of them are either being suspected as puppets of other parties that will "drain" votes in the first round or - what is worse - have openly indicated they will not be voting for themselves. Some just have a background that could easily raise eyebrows. 

Take Plamen Oresharski, who in just a day - on June 14, 2013 - turned into one of the most controversial Bulgarian politicians of recent years. It was under his 14-month tenure that that Delyan Peevski, a controversial lawmaker of DPS party and media mogul, as head of Bulgaria's counter-intelligence agency DANS, underlining connections between politicians and vested business interests and opening the floodgates of Bulgaria's most widespread protests since the mid-1990s. His term is also associated with the collapse of Corporate Commercial Bank (KTB), Bilgaria's fourth-largest lender at the time.

Sometimes the protests against Oresharski would turn violent - especially in the summer of 2013.

Having been Deputy Finance Minister in 1997, Oresharski was also a member of right-wing UDF party at the time. He was to run for Sofia Mayor in 2003, but his nomination was revoked after his meeting with businessman Vasil Bozhkov. He soon left the party. Later, during his term as Finance Minister in the 2005-2009 government dominated by the socialists and the DPS, it was him to pushed through the flat tax rate in Bulgaria, drawing outrage from the socialist-leaning electorate.

Oresharski is now an independent candidate, former Transport Minister Danail Papazov being his running mate. His critics suspect him of being "someone's nomination", in an apparent reference to his former role as a tool of backroom interests at the time he was in the executive branch. But he denies being a candidate of either DPS or PM Boyko Borisov's GERB party, even though he sees them as possible partners in the race. He argues that, once elected, he "will have the opportunities to be independent from parties" and get on with unfinished work, struggling to reconcile the nation, uniting Bulgarians around national interests. He backs a softer tone on Russia.

Veselin Mareshki, a Bulgarian entrepreneur and an aspiring politician (formerly a municipal councilor), is running as an independent candidate. Petar Petrov, a military officer and lecturer, is his running mate. The 49-year-old presidential candidate initially declared his intention to run for President while also launching a referendum (later turned down by Parliament) on fuel prices and other issues, amid his effort to expose a “cartel agreement” between petrol and diesel retailers.

Veselin Mareshki (C) submitting his referendum petition to Parliament in May.

The pharmaceutics boss began his university studies in Moscow and later returned in Bulgaria, after having already established several connection that would later help him develop his own medicine retail chain. He also ownes the Bulgarian football team Lokomotiv Plovdiv. e joined the fuel retail business in 2015, somehow managing to push down his own prices and creating huge queues at his petrol stations in the first days. He now promises to fight oligarchs, monopolies and the political model pursued currently in Bulgaria.

Velizar Enchev, a former lawmaker, diplomat, a State Security agent during the Soviet era and a foreign intelligence officer in the first years of democracy, made it into Parliament on the ticket of the nationalist Patriotic Front coalition, but quit the party in a matter of days and remained an independent lawmaker. He also founded a "SYRIZA-type" movement called Bulgarian Spring back in 2015, urging a break with neo-liberal policies.

Velizar Enchev, a Soviet-era spy who has published a book tited

He also seeks a referendum on Bulgaria's NATO membership and closer ties to Russia, blaming the Alliance for "destroying the Bulgarian Air Force".  Surprisingly, he also tabled a bill on medical marijuana legalization which was rejected by Parliament's floor in May. His running mate is lawyer Bilyana Grancharova.

For George Ganchev, this is the third time he is running for President. His experience comprises a colourful range of occupations - a theater director, film producer and playwright, an actor, a world fencing champion (but not playing for Bulgaria) and a basketball player. Most of his adult life, however (he was born 1939) transpired abroad as he married a British national and fled to the UK early in the 1960s. 

It was in 1970 (the first year he was a world fencing champion on behalf of Britain) that he was recruited as a secret agent with Bulgaria's security service, DS, a position he retained until the collapse of the agency in 1990. Upon his return to Bulgaria, he was a founding member of the Union for Democratic Forces, and in 1990s later founded the Bulgarian Business Bloc, which he headed until 1996. In the 1992 presidential elections, he garnered 17% of the vote, but support for him dwindled to only three percent nine years later, when he came fourth in the first round. He was a lawmaker between 1995 and 2001. He made a ten-year pause from active politics which was only interrupted by his move to found a party called the National Patriotic Union in 2004 and try to win a seat in the 2005 parliamentary elections. In 2012, he announced his return to politics.

His running mate, Kolyo Paramov, is a former Bulgarian Socialist Party lawmaker (1991-1995) whose career includes the position of inspector at the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB).

Aleksandar Tomov, a university lecturer, politician and entrepreneur, is also well-known to the world of politics. The first time he ran was in 1997, when he left the Bulgarian Socialist Party to set up his own movement. He won just 3.16% of the vote. He owned CSKA Sofia between 2013 and 2015, having headed its advisory board from 2006 and 2009. He stood trial for embezzling BGN 3.5 M from the football club and BGN 29 M from metal works plant Kremikovtsi, but was acquitted on both charges. 

Thousands of football fans blame Aleksandar Tomov, holding him accountable for CSKA Sofia's financial ruin, despite a court decision that acquitted him.

His Bulgarian Social Democracy party runs at general elections, but fails to garner more than the 1% of the vote needed to earn state subsidies. 

His running mate, Radoslav Radoslavov, is a party member.

Aleksandar Karakachanov was the first Mayor of Sofia elected on the ticket of the UDF back in 1990, but stepped down a year later. He was known as a leader of the Green Party until 2012. Boyan Kirov, a former lawmaker and State Security agent, is the vice presidential candidate.

Compared to these, Nikolay Banev is rather an aspiring politician. He set up one of Bulgaria's first private entities, a private guard company in the town of Haskovo, after democracy began. Nowadays he owns a number of businesses in different fields, but his most notable work is in the tourism industry. His wife, Evgeniya, ran for MEP in 2014. Banev, who advocates the treatment of Russian businesses on an equal footing with Western ones despite the current sanctions (but now backs the country's EU and NATO membership), came to fame again earlier this year after his name appeared in the Panama Papers. Sali Ibryam, his running mate, was Second Secretary at the Bulgarian Embassy to Russia after heading Momchilgrad Municipality as Mayor (1999-2003). He also ran in 2011 - but as a presidential candidate. On Tuesday he told the Bulgarian National Television that he was not running with the goal to win, one he understood was not "realistic", but rather to pave the way for his Eurasian Club movement into a political party.

Nikolay Banev (L) and his wife, Evgeniya.

If something unites these candidates, it is their public activity, either in politics or businesses, which has given them some nationwide credit. Novinite will publish a second list of less prominent candidates on Tuesday.

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Tags: Danail Papazov, Plamen Oresharski, Nikolay Banev, Sali Ibryam, Aleksandar Karakachanov, Boyan Kirov, Aleksandar Tomov, Radoslav Radoslavov, George Ganchev, Kolyo Paramov, Velizar Enchev, Veselin Mareshki, Petar Petrov, Presidential elections


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