DARIA was determined but nervous as she went to vote in Sunday's runoff round of Bulgaria's first free elections in more than 40 years. There was also a question of pride in the opposition. No communist candidate had yet won in Sofia, Bulgaria's capital. Opposition candidates won an absolute majority in 18 of the capital's 26 districts in the first round on June 10. In the remaining 8 districts there were runoffs, and her district, she said, was not going to be an exception to this string of opposition victories.
``My district is not going to be the only red spot in Sofia,'' she said. (The ballots of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the former communists, were red.)
Daria's determination was not lessened by the fact that her husband, who happened to vote in their old district, did not have to vote in the runoffs. In his district, the opposition candidate had already won.
Daria symbolizes the change in Bulgaria. Much of the country's political opposition is found in cities such as the capital and among the youth, but among rural voters the Socialists are regarded as a stabilizing factor.
Her candidate, economist Ljubomir Goshev from the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), was trailing after Round 1. He stood at 44.8 percent, against the 47.7 percent for this opponent, historian Dragomir Draganov of the Socialist Party.
Daria realized that a Goshev victory would be difficult, but every win was important if the opposition was to stop the communists, who had taken 172 seats in the first round, from winning the necessary 29 of the 81 runoffs to gain a majority in the new 400-member parliament. (At press time, in fact, state-run Sofia Radio said partial results showed the Socialists had won 28 seats in Sunday's runoffs. Twenty-five races were as yet unannounced.)
The morning was gray and a little chilly as Daria, the mother of a small boy, walked between the huge concrete apartment buildings, with balconies full of laundry hanging to dry and lots of broken windows to vote in High School 125.
``It's hard to find windowpanes,'' Daria explained.
Once inside, she went to the classroom marked Section 23, where the red, white, and green Bulgarian flag hung in the window, and officials from all the political parties marked off her vote on a computer list.
She received an empty envelope, stepped through the white sheet hung around the voting booth where red Socialist and blue UDF ballots were placed, put one ballot in the envelope, stepped out and put it in the white, wooden ballot box. It was done.
In the classrooms next door, in the supermarket across the road, in another school a couple of blocks away, the same procedure took place all day in the Mladost district in the outskirts of Sofia.
Many soldiers are temporarily stationed here, and one young recruit from the coastal city of Varna quietly said that he was voting for the UDF. When asked why, he looked around at his fellow soldiers standing in line waiting to vote and said that this was not the best place to discuss that. He added that they had not been exposed to any pressure from their officers as to how to vote.
Another young man also said he had voted for the UDF. No, he answered with a smile, the decision had not been difficult.
A teacher said she was a member of the Socialist Party and had voted for it. She was excited, because democracy was good for Bulgaria. And a middle-aged man, a pharmacist, said he had also voted for Socialists, because he believed that the old Communist Party had really changed and that the Socialists had the leaders required to lead Bulgaria.
For the UDF's Goshev, the campaign had been good, even though opponents had said that he was too old, that he would sleep in parliament, and that he was a burglar. He laughed.
``Still, I am hopeful for Bulgarian democracy. It might go slower here than in other East European countries, but it is the right way,'' said Goshev, who had spent six years in prison during the Stalinist era of the 1950s.
All day the voters in Mladost went to the polls. Just before closing time at 6 p.m. in Section 23, four last voters - panting after running across the school yard - cast their votes. Then the classroom door was shut and locked.
Inside, 18 officials counted ballots and observed the procedures. It was quiet in the room, almost solemn, as the checking of names and lists began. The man from the BSP counted, and the woman from the UDF recounted. One red. One blue. Everyone watched and counted, too.
It was democracy.
Daria was tense. Her sadness increased as the pile of red Socialist ballots grew markedly higher than the pile of blues on the table in the middle of the room.
Finally the verdict: 542 reds and 222 blues. The Socialist candidate had even increased his lead from the first round, when he got 515 votes against the UDF candidate's 211.
Daria was crushed.