May 21, 2007 / 5:27 AM / 12 years ago

Euro vote result a warning to Bulgarian government

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria’s opposition narrowly won European Parliament elections on Sunday, sending a warning shot to the Socialist-led government that it needs to get serious about fighting crime and corruption, analysts said.

A man casts his vote in a polling station in the Bulgarian capital Sofia May 20, 2007. Bulgarians began voting on Sunday in their first elections for the European Parliament, with the ruling Socialists favoured to win despite a likely low turnout due to disenchantment with the country's rampant corruption. REUTERS/Nikolay Doychinov

The ruling coalition, which was caught in a graft scandal after the country joined the EU in January, polled about 48 percent of the vote, way below the almost two thirds it got in general elections in 2005, preliminary results showed on Monday.

“It is obvious that people want more radical action from the government,” Gallup analyst Kancho Stoichev said. “It will now probably start to act more actively against corruption.”

The Socialists of Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev even came second in the number of the votes cast, 21.41 percent or about a third less than two years before, behind new rightist GERB party of Sofia mayor Boiko Borissov with 21.69 percent.

Stanishev called the vote results “unpleasant”.

“It is clear that after the EU entry people expect more: they expect stronger economic growth, higher incomes,” he said on Sunday evening.

“The Bulgarian citizens can be sure we are reading the signs they are giving to us and that we will really do a serious analysis and take actions,” he said.

The vote came after Bulgaria and neighboring Romania joined the European Union in January, following a last-minute rush to reform communist-era judiciary and state institutions.

Both countries are at risk of sanctions from the bloc, possibly soon after a June 27 progress report from Brussels, as fading momentum for reform is raising talk among some member states that the two were admitted too soon.

How the government and judiciary handle the graft scandal, involving the economy minister and the country’s top investigator, is regarded as a litmus test of its willingness to root out abuse.

“The corruption scandal has not ended yet and the tendencies for negative attitude towards the government will continue, if it does not take fundamental measures,” commentator Ivan Garelov wrote in Sofia’s daily Novinar.

Ognyan Shentov, who heads the Sofia-based Center for the Study of Democracy, said the government remained strong but now needed to reshuffle the cabinet.

“But is should be done soon and be used effectively,” he said.

GERB, Socialists and their government allies from the ethnic Turkish MRF party should all win five of Bulgaria’s 18 seats in the European Parliament.

The rest will be divided between the junior ruling coalition partner, the centrist NMS of former king Simeon Saxe-Coburg which bore the brunt of voter dissatisfaction, and the nationalist Attack party.

Additional reporting by Kremena Miteva

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