Elections: Bulgaria

Bulgaria has a Presidential election this weekend. There’s no question who’s going to win, but there’s still some nail-biting suspense.

Why? Well, the current President is former Socialist Georgi Parvanov. (“Former” Socialist because the Bulgarian President must not be affiliated with any political party.) He seems to be a decent enough fellow. The Bulgarian Presidency doesn’t have a lot of power, but Parvanov looks good, says all the right things, and has generally acted Presidential. Earlier this year, he acknowledged that he’d “cooperated” with the State Security Service back in the days of Communism; perhaps because he was quick to admit it, nobody seems to hold it much against him.

Parvanov is reasonably popular. He’s not considered brilliant, but he’s energetic, peripatetic, and constantly in the public eye. (There’s a joke that if you want to see him, build a doghouse, and he’ll show up to cut the ribbon.) So, he will almost certainly win the election this Tuesday.

But. Under Bulgaria’s election law, Presidential elections go to a second round if (1) nobody wins 50% of the votes cast, or (2) 50% of eligible voters don’t turn out. Parvanov will probably get well past 50%, but low turnout seems likely — in the last national election, only 42% of the voters showed up. So there will probably be a second round.

This raises the interesting question of who’ll come in second.
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Slovakia swings left

Slovakia had elections this weekend. They don’t seem to have attracted much attention, but I think they’re worth a quick look.

Short version: a center-right government that was committed to controversial social and economic reforms got thrown out in favor of a left-wing populist.

Now, depending on what corner of the political spectrum you come from, your reaction to this may be, “Aw, shucks” or “At last!” What makes it interesting, I think, is that this is Eastern Europe, where everything is a bit rawer and the safety catches are off. PM Mikulas Dzurinda and his SDKU party, in power for the last eight years, had an economic program that would have made Margaret Thatcher go dizzy and weak in the knees. Privatization, a flat tax, brisk reorganization of social programs… it was quite something.

Especially since Dzurinda came into office after Vladimir Meciar. Remember him? An obnoxious Communist-turned-Nationalist of the Milosevic-Lukashenko sort, but without even the modest redeeming qualities (i.e., intelligence and a grasp of basic economics) of a Lukashenko. Meciar was a buffoon, a demagogue, and an incompetent; whether you like Dzurinda or not, there’s little doubt that he was the best choice available back in ’98.

Anyway. Dzurinda’s policies saw some results. Slovakia got hothouse economic growth and a surge of foreign investment that has turned it, against all expectations, into the automotive manufacturing center of Eastern Europe. But it also saw sharply increased inequality in income and wealth; and while unemployment went down, the jobs created were mostly available to the young, the urban, and those willing and able to pick up stakes. Jobs may be going begging in the capital, but a few hours west, on the Ukrainian border, the unemployment rate is over 25%.

Without getting into a debate over the merits of SDKU’s policies (though that’s very interesting in its own right), it’s clear that the Slovakian electorate has decided to swing left for a while.

Numbers below the fold.
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