Europe’s decadeslong project to unite the Continent on both shared commerce and shared values took a big leap Sunday. In Bulgaria, which is the European Union’s poorest and most corrupt member state, a new political party focused solely on ending official graft won the most votes in a parliamentary election.
The results were a success for the thousands of civic-minded protesters who rose up last year to demand clean governance in the Black Sea nation above all else.
“Whether you are right or left is not important; what is important is integrity,” said Kiril Petkov, co-founder of the We Continue the Change party, before the election. “We are here to work with honest people, whatever their political bias.”
The party’s electoral success was built on more than promise. Earlier this year, Mr. Petkov served as economics minister under a transitional caretaker government and exposed political favoritism in public procurement during the long rule of ousted Prime Minister Boyko Borisov. He said Bulgaria, a post-communist democracy of some 7 million people, had become the EU country with the most public contracts awarded without a tender.
The election also revealed the depth of the civic awakening among Bulgarians. Mr. Petkov formed his party only in September, just weeks before the election. With little of the usual party apparatus, it won about 26% of the vote, or enough to give it the lead in forming a coalition with smaller parties that oppose corruption.
The appeal of Mr. Petkov, a successful entrepreneur with a Harvard business degree, may also lie in his promise of quick results in battling graft. “I want in the next four years to be a success story of how one small country eradicated corruption in a super short time,” he told The Financial Times.
One reason for cleaning up Bulgaria’s political culture is that the country is due to adopt the common currency, or euro. The 27-member union cannot afford another near-collapse of the eurozone as happened in 2009, when corruption in Greece led to official lies about the size of the country’s debt.
Greece has since turned a corner on curbing corruption. Now Bulgaria may do the same. The EU project of instilling values such as transparency and honesty in governance remains on track.