* Socialists plan to abolish 10 percent flat income tax
* Aim to create more than 250,000 new jobs, raise wages
* Pledge to build new nuclear plant on Danube
By Angel Krasimirov
SOFIA, Feb 16 Bulgaria's opposition Socialists
pledged on Saturday to cut taxes for low earners by abolishing a
flat rate of 10 percent and to create more than 250,000 new jobs
if they win a parliamentary election in July.
The Bulgarian Socialist Party would try to improve living
standards in the European Union's poorest member state by
raising the minimum salary and pension and resuming construction
of a nuclear power plant, BSP leader Sergei Stanishev said.
Running a close second in opinion polls behind Prime
Minister Boiko Borisov's centre-right GERB, the BSP would also
consider renationalising utilities if elected on July 7.
While the economy has emerged from a deep recession, it is
growing only slowly and many voters are frustrated that Bulgaria
still trails other formerly communist members of the EU, with
wealth per capita less than half the bloc's average.
"The state is broke," Stanishev told a BSP congress. "The
economy is on artificial respiration, poverty and unemployment
are growing, people live in misery, fear and apathy."
Bulgaria's jobless rate hit a ten-month high of 11.9 percent
in January, with the average salary at just over 400 euros
($530) per month.
"Our country has never been so far away from Europe,"
Stanishev added. "A radical change in the attitude of the state
to Bulgarian citizens is needed. We are not fighting for power
but for Bulgaria to survive and have prospects."
The BSP has narrowed GERB's lead in the polls since a
government U-turn on a plan to build a new nuclear power plant
at Belene on the Danube river, a decision the Socialists would
reverse if they take power.
GERB said it did not have enough foreign investors to ensure
financing of the multi-billion-dollar project but more than 60
percent of Bulgarians who voted in a January referendum backed
the new plant, hoping it would create jobs and cut power bills.
"Belene is the cheapest nuclear project in the world at the
moment," said Stanishev, who was prime minister from 2005 to
2009. "If we had won the 2009 election, this year or next year
we would already have the first working reactor."
The BSP plans to scrap the current flat income tax -
introduced by a Socialist-led government in 2008 - in favour of
a graded system. Stanishev did not specify what the new rates
would be but said lower earners would pay less.
"The rich will pay more than the poor," Stanishev said.
The BSP's idea of a non-taxable threshold for lowest incomes
was welcomed by trade unions but criticised by some analysts who
said it could leave a hole in the budget and lead to an
effectively higher burden on taxpayers.
Unpopular austerity measures, delayed reforms, low incomes
and high unemployment imposed by GERB have eroded support for
its government, as have a failure to root out widespread
corruption and cronyism.
In the last few days, Bulgarians took to the streets in more
than a dozen cities to protest over their latest electricity
bills, demanding a renationalisation of power distributors.