Bulgarians have begun voting in a general election that opinion polls suggest will hand power to the Socialists after eight years in opposition. The liberal government of prime minister and ex-king Simeon Saxe-Coburg is set to take a beating over its perceived failure to tackle poverty and crime. However, investors have praised his handling of the economy and credited his leadership with bringing Bulgaria into NATO and to the threshold of the EU. The Socialists were ousted in 1997 after driving Bulgaria into economic collapse. Now they have a young new leader, Sergei Stanishev, who promises to continue Saxe-Coburg’s EU-oriented reforms. If Stanishev wins, he will have to strike a difficult balance between economic modernisation and boosting public sector wages. Half of Bulgaria’s eight million people still survive on two euros a day. Of the EU’s member or candidate states, only Turkey is poorer. An outright majority is unlikely, so the Socialists may form a coalition with the mostly ethnic Turkish MRF.
Bulgarians cast ballots in parliamentary vote