Bul­garia in turmoil Rus­sophile wins pres­i­dency; PM re­signs

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

EU mem­ber Bul­garia headed yes­ter­day into fresh po­lit­i­cal tur­bu­lence af­ter a for­mer air­force com­man­der seen as more sym­pa­thetic to Rus­sia tri­umphed in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, prompt­ing Prime Min­is­ter Boyko Borisov to quit. In his vic­tory speech, Ru­men Radev re­it­er­ated his op­po­si­tion to EU sanc­tions on Rus­sia and praised new US Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump for “seek­ing more di­a­logue” with Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. “This gives a lot of hope for re­duc­ing (the risk) of con­fronta­tion, par­tic­u­larly in Syria” where Rus­sia and the US are back­ing op­po­site sides in a bloody civil war, the fighter pi­lot said.

He won 59.4 per­cent of the vote, well ahead of the more Western-lean­ing Tset­ska Tsacheva, Borisov’s unin­spir­ing hand-picked can­di­date, who gar­nered just 36.2 per­cent, near-com­plete of­fi­cial re­sults showed yes­ter­day. The out­come was mir­rored in Moldova, a small ex-com­mu­nist na­tion wedged be­tween Ukraine and Ro­ma­nia, where the pro-Rus­sian Igor Dodon beat his pro-Euro­pean ri­val Maia Sandu to the pres­i­dency.

“The re­sults clearly show that the rul­ing coali­tion no longer holds the ma­jor­ity,” Borisov said on Sun­day evening as he threw in the towel. “I apol­o­gise to those who sup­ported us. I thought I was do­ing the right thing... If Bul­gar­i­ans want a po­lit­i­cal cri­sis then they shall have one,” the burly 57-year-old told re­porters. Bul­garia is now set for months of po­lit­i­cal in­er­tia. Borisov yes­ter­day for­mally handed his res­ig­na­tion to par­lia­ment. An in­terim gov­ern­ment will gov­ern un­til fresh elec­tions, which are not ex­pected un­til March at the ear­li­est and could well be in­con­clu­sive.

Radev, 53, due to take of­fice on Jan­uary 22, has no po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence and was lit­tle known be­fore be­ing backed by the op­po­si­tion So­cial­ists to run for pres­i­dent. Like other anti-es­tab­lish­ment politi­cians-not least Trump but also pop­ulists around Europe-he struck a chord with vot­ers by at­tack­ing the sta­tus quo and stress­ing is­sues like na­tional se­cu­rity and im­mi­gra­tion. Ex­perts also saw his vic­tory as a protest vote at Borisov’s fail­ure to im­prove the lot of or­di­nary Bul­gar­i­ans-the av­er­age monthly is just 480 eu­ros ($535) - and to tackle ram­pant cor­rup­tion. Radev’s clear sup­port for the lift­ing of sanc­tions on Rus­sia and am­biva­lent state­ments about the EU, NATO and Crimea have prompted spec­u­la­tion that Bul­garia could lean more towards Moscow.

This could fur­ther un­der­mine unity within the EU, al­ready reel­ing from June’s Brexit vote, in its stance towards Rus­sia just as Trump’s sur­prise elec­tion vic­tory raises wor­ries about the fu­ture of NATO. “Gen­eral Radev’s vic­tory rep­re­sents the un­fold­ing of a pro-Rus­sian sce­nario in Bul­garia so that the coun­try sup­ports Rus­sian in­ter­ests in the EU and NATO,” po­lit­i­cal ex­pert An­toniy Gal­abov said. But at the same time Radev, stress­ing that he is a “NATO gen­eral trained in the US”, has said that Bul­garia’s mem­ber­ship of the Euro­pean Union and the NATO mil­i­tary al­liance have “no al­ter­na­tive”.

Bul­garia and Rus­sia have deep his­tor­i­cal, cul­tural and com­mer­cial ties and the coun­try has long walked a tightrope in its re­la­tions with Moscow and the West. Bul­garia’s out­go­ing pres­i­dent has been sharply crit­i­cal of Moscow and Borisov’s gov­ern­ment an­gered Moscow by ban­ning Rus­sian sup­ply flights to Syria from us­ing its airspace last Septem­ber. An­toniy Todorov at New Bul­gar­ian Univer­sity pointed out that as pres­i­dent a largely cer­e­mo­nial but highly re­spected po­si­tionRadev on his own can do lit­tle. “The pres­i­dent only has in­flu­ence if the gov­ern­ment is on the same wave­length... Radev is not go­ing to pull Bul­garia out of NATO,”Todorov said. —AFP

SOFIA: Bul­gar­ian pres­i­dent Rosen Plevneliev (right) shakes hands with pres­i­dent-elect Ru­men Radev (left) prior to their meet­ing at the Bul­gar­ian Pres­i­dency of­fice in Sofia yes­ter­day. —AFP

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