Anti-corruption party wins Bulgarian election, seeks reforms

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Kiril Petkov, left, and Asen Vasilev, co-leaders of the We Continue the Change party, celebrate their victory in the parliamentary elections in Sofia, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. The newly founded anti-corruption party is leading in Bulgaria’s parliamentary election Sunday, a parallel ballot count showed. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova)

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — A new centrist anti-corruption party appears to be the winner of Bulgaria’s parliamentary election, the country’s central electoral commission said Monday.

With nearly 76% of the ballots counted, results showed that the We Continue the Change party, founded few weeks ago by two Harvard graduates, has captured 25.3% of the vote, edging out the opposition center-right GERB party of former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov by nearly 3%.

Corruption is a huge issue in Bulgaria, the European Union’s poorest member. Hundreds of thousands of people turned out last year to protest when GERB was the ruling party, complaining about official corruption in the nation of 7 million people. After Bulgaria held inconclusive general elections in April and July and politicians could not form a government many hoped that this third vote would result in a government that can lead Bulgaria out of its health and economic crises.

Five other parties made it into the 240-seat chamber, according to the latest results. They include the ethnic Turkish MRF party with 13.7% support, the Socialist Party with 10.3 %, the anti-elite There is Such a People party with 9.7%, the liberal anti-corruption group Democratic Bulgaria with 5.9%, and the nationalist Revival party with 5%.

If these results are confirmed by the final count, Kiril Petkov, the 41-year-old leader of We Continue the Change, will be handed a mandate to form a new government.

Petkov and his co-chair of the party, Asen Vasilev, 44, who both served as ministers of economics and of finance in the last caretaker cabinet, have highlighted misuse of state funds in a series of anti-graft actions, which have earned them wide public approval.

Analysts are attributing the new party’s unexpected victory to its pledges to bring transparency, zero tolerance for corruption and reforms to key sectors.

Unlike the campaigns of the established parties, the “two Harvards,” as the two new party leaders have been dubbed by local media, made an American-style campaign by touring the country in a dark blue bus and talking to people in the streets. The party’s founders have managed to attract many young educated Bulgarians to return home and help reform the country.

Petkov, who grew up in Canada and has a Canadian wife, returned to Bulgaria in 2007. He co-founded the Center for Economic Strategy and Competitiveness, which is affiliated with the Harvard Business School and Sofia University.

Although new to politics, Petkov said he’s ready to assume the post of prime minister if he gets support from potential coalition partners. He said his party is open for coalition talks with any party — left, right or center — that was part of last year’s protests against Borissov’s government.

“We will have a majority of 121 MPs in the 240-seat parliament and Bulgaria will have a regular coalition cabinet,” he said.

Petkov firmly rejected having coalition talks with Borissov’s GERB party or the MRF party, due to lingering suspicions about their ties to corruption.

“Now is the time to show that Bulgaria has embarked on the road of change, and there is no turning back,” he said. “If we can stop (corruption) and redistribute money for the well-being of the taxpayers, then we should be able to come to an agreement with several parties.”

In Bulgaria’s presidential election, President Rumen Radev was leading with 49.4% with 76% of the ballots counted, while university professor Anastas Gerdzhikov had 22.4%. The two will have a runoff on Nov. 21 because neither got over 50% support and the turnout was also under 50%.

Preliminary turnout was 40%.

Radev congratulated We Continue the Change for what he called a “compelling victory.”

“I believe that this time parties will overcome their differences in the name of our future, and we will have a stable majority to elect an efficient government,” Radev said.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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