By Maria Stoyadinova
In 2003 California got its Governator. Last weekend, Bulgaria got a hero of its own: Batman was elected the new Prime Minister.
The 'Batman' in question is the former bodyguard Boyko Borisov, who for the past few years served as mayor of Bulgaria's capital and who received the nickname for his love of drama and action. He is known to appear promptly at the scene of any significant event, especially if it might be broadcast by any major media outlet.
It is not yet clear whether the results of the parliamentary elections, announced late on July 5th, are a cause for celebration or mourning. On the one hand, the Socialist government ruling the country for the past four years was finally sidetracked from the parliamentary landscape. On the other hand, Borisov, who emerged as the new Prime Minister with an uncontested majority, has great public appeal and popularity, but has done little to demonstrate his credentials for political leadership.
There has been a lot of discussion about the wide disillusionment of the Bulgarian electorate with the rule of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which formed a majority coalition with the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (a party representing the Bulgarian Turkish minority) and with NDSV (the party of the former Bulgarian prime minister Simeon Saxe Cobourg-Gotha) following the previous parliamentary elections in 2005. The Triple Coalition, as they were called, did not do much to alleviate the economic inequality in the country, where many (among whom the elderly) can't even afford to cover basic monthly expenses, while others--most prominently the mafia elite--exuberantly demonstrate their fast-begotten wealth through lavish spending and public displays of extravagance. At the same time, the Triple Coalition also left the rampant corruption in the country unchecked, which led Brussels to withdraw almost $600 million in EU funding in 2008. The Bulgarian Socialist Party was, moreover, keen on strengthening Bulgaria's ties with Russia, conceding to most attempts of economic and energy bullying coming from Moscow.
Against the backdrop of such poor performance, the election results, showing 42% of voters backing Borisov's party GERB (an acronym that translates to Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria) seem like a step forward. And there have been some positive announcements already, like the nomination of Simeon Djankov as the new Bulgarian Finance Minister (Djankov is currently a chief economist at the World Bank group and appears to have excellent credentials). Moreover, the voter turnout in the country was higher than expected, exceeding 60 percent.
However, there is still cause for concern. First and foremost, Mr. Borisov made very little progress in solving some of Sofia's problems during his tenure as mayor, despite the ambitious agenda he outlined during his campaign. While he has a way to charm the public, speaking and dressing in a manner oddly reminiscent of Marlon Brando's portrayal of Vito Corleone, Borisov largely lacks any political or international relations experience or training. Prior to 1989, he was a bodyguard to the former leader of the Bulgarian Communist Party prior to 1989. His later experience includes jobs as a firefighter, a wrestler and a karate coach. Some have alleged that Boyko himself has ties to the Bulgarian mafia. Furthermore, despite his attempts to crack down on organized crime during his years as Chief Secretary of the Interior Ministry, public mafia killings remained commonplace on the streets of Sofia and other Bulgarian cities.
While Borisov does preach fighting corruption and pursuing racial and minority integration--both of which are direly needed in Bulgaria--it remains to be seen whether we will be able to deliver this time, or whether he would have to fall back on his public appeal once more.
Maria Stoyadinova is a graduate student in the IR/International Law program at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.