In Bulgaria's prime ministerial race, a former wrestler scores a big takedown
Boyko Borisov, the no-nonsense mayor of Sofia, must now grapple with Bulgaria's economic woes and corruption.
Wrestler, karate coach, bodyguard, top cop, mayor of Sofia, and now prime minister. Boyko Borisov will have one of the more eclectic resumes among European heads of government when he becomes Bulgarian premier in the wake of his overwhelming election victory Sunday.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Borisov's Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB, which translates as "coat of arms") won a reported 40 percent of the vote, trouncing the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) of Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, which scored 18 percent.
GERB is forecast to send 116 deputies to the 240-seat parliament, just short of a majority. It is expected to form a government with the Blue Coalition, a descendant of the right-of-center movement that governed between 1997 and 2001, and took nearly 7 percent of the vote, giving it a projected 15 seats. The scale of GERB's victory was unexpected – it had polled less than 25 percent in the European elections last month.
Borisov will now have to tackle the problems that contributed to the defeat of Mr. Stanishev's three-party administration, including corruption, unchecked organized crime, suspended funding from the European Union, and Bulgaria's controversial but vital role in European energy security. Add to this an economy expected to contract by 2 percent this year and concerns about ethnic tensions, and there is a substantial in-box awaiting the triumphant mayor.
Fiery rhetoric, but pro-business
Borisov, who was bodyguard to Communist leader Todor Zhivkov and former king and prime minister Simeon II, has built his reputation as a straight-talking man of action who takes on an entrenched political elite.
His statements have occasionally suggested that he is more maverick populist than reformer; he has been quoted as referring to Bulgaria's ethnic Turkish and Roma minorities, as well as pensioners, as "bad material," and has accused the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), a junior partner in Stanishev's coalition, which is largely supported by Turks, of stoking fears of terrorism.
Though these comments have been manipulated by his opponents, he has openly compared the Socialists to "the children of Hitler, Göring, and Göbbels," due to their links to the Communist regime.
But this image has clearly reaped political rewards, with Bulgarians opting for the burly and charismatic Borisov after a string of prime ministers whose smooth air of professionalism failed to secure any a second term.