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Europe

Bulgaria elects a quiet master of post-socialist politics

The president-elect manages a careful balance between old Socialist faithful and younger devotees.

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In half a decade, Georgi Parvanov came out of obscurity and into the presidency

Bulgarians have elected Georgi Parvanov, the leader of the opposition Socialist Party, as their new president in a close election on Sunday.

Parvanov, 44, edged out the incumbent centre-right President Petar Stoyanov, taking 53% of the ballots according to provisional results.

His victory is just the latest in a recent string of surprise successes for ex-Communists in East European politics. Estonia, Poland and Lithuania have all gone the same way this year, driven by voters’ frustration over the pace and style of post-socialist development.

But in Bulgaria, as elsewhere in the region, the left’s latest triumph is unlikely to change the country’s political and diplomatic trajectory.

The ebullient Parvonov, declaring victory after Stoyanov’s concession speech, promised to stay the course, aiming for Bulgarian membership in the European Union and NATO. EU membership could come, many Bulgarians hope, by 2006.

There’s just one catch: the Socialist leader also vowed to “revive Bulgaria's relations with Russia, Ukraine and other strategic partners.”

Out of nowhere

Parvanov’s unexpected rise to power, starting in 1996, when as a relatively obscure party figure he took the Socialists’ helm, is a tale of quiet but masterful political manoeuvring.

Reconciling the interests of the Socialists’ two contentious constituencies – elderly voters who still reminisce about the old regime and younger social democrats – was a key to Parvanov’s electoral success.

It may be harder for him to maintain such support, once he takes office in January 2002.

But he can rely on initial support from the popular prime minister, former king Simeon Saxe-Coburg. Otherwise known as Simeon II, he was elected in June after campaigning against corruption and promising Bulgarians a chance to share in the benefits of economic reform.

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