Former Communists Look to Secure Parliamentary Majority in Runoff Elections
SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) _ Bulgarians cast ballots Sunday in an election runoff that may give former Communists a majority in the country’s first freely elected Parliament in 58 years.
The main opposition parties have said they won’t join in a coalition government with the ex-Communists.
But there were indications that leaders of the Socialists - the former Communists - and the opposition might support a government run by non-partisan technocrats.
The vote comes one week after an initial round of balloting last Sunday, the first free elections in Bulgaria since 1932.
The Socialists won the most seats in the first round, 172 in the 400-seat unicameral Grand National Assembly. The main opposition alliance, the Union of Democratic Forces, was second with 107 seats, and other opposition groups won a total of 40 seats.
The Socialists, who carried out democratic reforms after ousting longtime Communist leader Todor Zhivkov last year, need only 29 of the 81 seats up for grabs Sunday for a majority.
Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. Final results were not expected until later in the week.
At final rallies late Friday, Socialist Party leader Alexander Lilov predicted a ″powerful victory″ in the runoff.
One opposition leader, Rumen Vodenicharov, told 10,000 supporters that ″the second round is a referendum for democracy.″
Even if the Socialists win outright, they will be faced with a strong opposition in parliament and will no longer be able to expect automatic approval of their policies.
The mainstream Agrarian Party, a former docile ally of the Communists during their four decades of rule, earlier this year declared their independence and have rejected entering any coalition with the Socialists. Leaders of the Agrarian Party, which garned only 8 percent of the vote in the first round, have called on its voters to back the Democratic Front on Sunday.
In an interview carried Saturday by the Socialist daily Duma, Premier Andrei Lukanov said ″national consensus is absolutely necessary. ... With a government comprised only of BSP (Socialist) members, this cannot be realized.″ He has repeatedly said he would not head such a Cabinet.
However, the Democratic Front has repeatedly ruled out a coalition with the former Communists.
Front leader Zhelyu Zhelev spoke Thursday of ″a government of competent people - of experts″ who are non-partisan.
That idea, sources said Saturday, is also shared by President Petar Mladenov and other leading Socialists.
Ivailo Trifonov, a close associate of Zhelev, hinted there was a possibility of such a solution.
While no agreement had been reached within the 16-party Democratic Front, Trifonov said Friday: ″If we arrive at this possibility, it should be a government of non-partisan experts.″
Such a solution would be ″a coalition through the backdoor,″ said a Western diplomat Saturday, who insisted on anonymity.
The main task of the Parliament will be to draft a new constitution and enact legislation designed to lead this nation of 9 million out of its deep economic crisis.
Under Bulgaria’s electoral law, half the seats are distributed according to the percentage of votes each party receives under the proportional system, The other half go to individual candidates elected by direct ballot.