Bulgarians vote today in what opinion polls suggest will be a defeat for the government of Simeon Saxe-Coburg, the only royal figure to be elected prime minister in Europe. Voters are dissatisfied with poverty and crime, although investors have praised his economic handling of the country. The Socialists last held power in 1997, but their roots in the former Communist party meant they were slow to treat the ailing economy with free-market medicine. Now they have a new young leader, Sergei Stanishev, who promises to continue Saxe-Coburg’s drive towards EU membership and the reforms to support it. However he also promises public sector wage rises and higher spending which some analysts say may threaten the economy.
While Saxe-Coburg has led Bulgaria into NATO, slashed unemployment by a third, boosted growth rates to six percent, and set the country on the road to EU membership, 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, Saxe-Coburg’s current partner in power.