Socialists suffer worst ever defeat


BULGARIA'S ruling ex communists suffered the worst defeat in their history in weekend presidential polls, losing a million votes from an electorate weary of economic crisis, preliminary results showed yesterday.

With 85 per cent of results counted, the 6.75 million voters of this former Soviet satellite gave the opposition candidate, Mr Petar Stoyanov, a clear - though not decisive - lead.

Mr Stoyanov was leading with 43.77 per cent of the vote, according to the electoral commission with his Socialist rival, Mr Ivan Marazov, second with 27.4.

Final results are due tomorrow. Since neither gained an majority, the two front runners now face a deciding on November 3rd, which has predicted he will win.

"This result is a vote of no confidence in the Bulgarian government," Mr Stoyanov, a 44 year old lawyer, told reporters yesterday. He said that if elected he would work towards bringing Bulgaria close to NATO and the EU.

Sunday's estimated turnout of 60 per cent was much lower than the 75 per cent recorded for the 1994 parliamentary election and analysts said the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) also lost votes to protest candidates like Mr George Ganchev of the Bulgarian Business Bloc, who polled 22.8 per cent.

"The overwhelming victory of the united opposition arose from the disintegration of the traditional Socialist electorate," said Mr Andrei Raichev of Gallup.

"The BSP lost one million of its voters. Part of them voted for Ganchev and the others did not vote at all," he added.

After the Communist leader, Mr Todor Zhivkov, was toppled in 1989, his former party colleagues hastily renamed themselves Socialists and stunned the rest of Europe by winning parliamentary elections in 1990.

Yesterday's newspapers described Mr Stoyanov's lead as a stinging blow to the Socialist government. The government of the Prime Minister, Mr Zhan Videnov, has a secure majority in parliament, where real power lies, but expect the latest result to widen splits within the Socialists and increase pressure for an early parliamentary election.

Delays in implementing market reforms have dragged Bulgaria deep into economic crisis. An IMF mission arrives tomorrow for more talks on release of a twice delayed $115 million credit.

Shortages loom in the coming Balkan winter as the central bank struggles to stretch dwindling reserves to prop up the local currency and buy fuel and wheat. Economists predict negative growth and 240 percent annual inflation this year.