With the upcoming parliamentary elections on 12 May 2013 Bulgarian political parties have entered a severe competition for votes. Nikolay Manov looks at the key issues in the run-up to the elections.
Unemployment is often a major topic on which parties base their campaigns. Almost all political actors claim that if elected they would create new jobs and develop sectors of the economy that have been neglected so far. Unemployment in Bulgaria is currently 12.6% – slightly above the EU average of 10.9%. Figures for youth unemployment are striking; almost one in every three people (29.2%) is without a job. The feeling that there is a lack of opportunities has made a lot of young people leave the country for Western Europe and the USA. Even low-skilled jobs in the West are better paid that positions requiring high education at home.
One also has to look at inflation. Data released by the National Institute for Statistics shows that although the inflation has been negative since the beginning of the year, it has increased overall since March 2012 by 2.7%. This, combined with declining living standards and the inability of people to pay bills and serve credits, has led to a number of public suicides. One of the most popular forms of protest has become the self-inflaming of individuals on main squares of bigger towns or in front of buildings symbolising state power in Sofia. On 20 March the number of people who had set themselves on fire in the last two months reached five. On the night of 1-2 May a mother of three children was about to jump from a building in Blagoevgrad and it was only due to the professional reaction of policemen and paramedics that the suicide was prevented.
Protests in February 2013 resulted in the resignation of the Borisov Cabinet just four months before elections were originally scheduled. Everything started at the end of January when people took the streets to protest against the high utility bills for essential services such as electricity. These are currently supplied by a different monopoly in each region of the country as a result of the privatisation process. Bills have risen because of the introduction of various standing charges.
Once protests began, they escalated quickly, leading to clashes between the police authorities and the protestors, and turned to a series of political demonstrations. Nonetheless, the resignation came as a surprise, as this has not been the case when mass demonstrations occurred against previous Cabinets.
With the resignation being accepted by the Parliament on 21 February a caretaker government was appointed to rule the country until new parliamentary elections are held in May. As Bulgarian society seems to be more divided than ever, it will be interesting to follow what will happen in the country in the next couple of weeks.