In Bulgaria, Elections Show It's Better To Be Red

IT'S a red-letter day in Bulgaria for former Communists, who will gain an absolute majority in parliament, according to preliminary election results.

If Sunday's vote produces a stable government, it would mark a giant step forward for Bulgaria, which has been a political basket case since the collapse of Communism in 1989.

Neither the Socialists (ex-Communists) nor the country's other main party, the Union of Democratic Forces, had been able to form viable majorities following the country's two previous post-1989 elections. The resulting political stalemate has, in turn, hindered economic reform attempts.

The continuation of instability could have repercussions that resound far beyond Bulgaria's borders. For example, organized criminal gangs, engaging in drug smuggling among other activities, have thrived in the political void.

But with more than 80 percent of the vote counted, preliminary official results yesterday gave the Socialists nearly 44 percent of the vote. The Union of Democratic Forces recorded the next best result with about 24 percent. Several smaller parties, including one representing Bulgaria's Turkish minority, appear to have gained more than 4 percent, the minimum needed to earn seats in parliament.

Because most of the 47 political parties that contested Sunday's election won't clear the 4 percent hurdle, the Socialists' share of the vote will most likely bring them their outright majority once the 240 parliament seats are apportioned.

Regardless of whether they end up with a majority, the Socialists have established themselves as the dominant party in Bulgaria, continuing a Central European trend that has seen former Communists make successful political comebacks after their 1989 fall from grace. In addition to Bulgaria, restyled apparatchiks have now clawed back to power in Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia, as well as the Baltic state of Lithuania. In Romania, they never relinquished the reigns of power.

The Bulgarian Socialists now must tackle daunting problems if they are to gain the confidence of the nation's 8.8 million people and stabilize the economy. Inflation in Bulgaria is estimated to be running at 120 percent annually, and about 740,000 people are unemployed. The country is also saddled with a $12-billion national debt and an antiquated infrastructure.

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