Bulgarian Socialists rally to demand early election

SOFIA (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of supporters of Bulgaria’s opposition Socialist Party (BSP) rallied on Saturday to protest poverty and corruption and demand an early election.

FILE PHOTO: President Rumen Radev (then presidential candidate of the Bulgarian Socialist Party) and party chairman Korneliya Ninova attend a news conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, November 13, 2016. Reuters/Marko Djurica/File Photo

The next election is due in 2021 and a snap vote is unlikely, according to analysts. But a survey by independent pollster Alpha Research showed support for the ruling GERB party has slipped since an election in March 2017, giving opposition parties hope.

The Socialists accused Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s government of indifference to deepening poverty and failing to put corrupt officials behind bars since taking office last May.

“It is time not only to say ‘resignation’ but to work for early elections,” said Sergei Stanishev, president of the Party of European Socialists and a former Socialist leader.

“I am convinced that BSP will win this election,” he told supporters, who waved red and national flags. The annual rally took place at the Mount of Buzludzha in central Bulgaria near the round, concrete, memorial house for the country’s communist party.

Bulgaria was ranked the European Union’s most corrupt country in Transparency International’s 2017 index and Brussels criticises it for failing to combat organized crime and convict corrupt high-level officials.

Corruption has reduced foreign investment and has prompted some EU countries to oppose Sofia’s entry into the Schengen zone of passport-free travel and to the euro zone.

Roads below Buzludzha in the Stara Planina mountains, where the foundations of the Socialist movement in Bulgaria were laid in 1891, turned into a sea of red for a rally that organisers said attracted 74,000 people.

BSP leader Korneliya Ninova vowed that her party would make improve living standards if it returns to power. More than 40 percent of Bulgarians remains at risk of poverty and social exclusion, Eurostat data showed.

Bulgaria still has the lowest average pension in the EU at 190 euros ($221.46) a month and around a quarter of Bulgarian pensioners receive the minimum pension of 106 euros.

“It is impossible to live with 200 levs,” said Ninova. The party, heir to the once-mighty Communist Party, also said the government has failed to stop Bulgaria’s demographic collapse.

Bulgaria’s population has shrunk by more than a fifth since the end of the communism in 1989 to just below 7 million and the number of babies born has reached its lowest level since 1945.

It had the EU’s highest mortality rate in 2016, according to Eurostat data and the third highest death rate in the world in 2017, according to Central Intelligence Agency data.

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Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg