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Bulgaria’s fight against corruption leads to fifth election in two years

Partist in sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, loves taking kids to the Museum of Illusions, where they can take distorted pictures of themselves in strange mirrors, staring at optical illusions until their eyes cross. As Bulgaria prepares to hold its fifth general election in two years on April 2, voters can be forgiven for thinking that their country’s politics are also largely an illusion. Take last year: As parliament debated whether to authorize arms shipments to Ukraine, Bulgarian leaders insisted the country had not yet done so. In fact, by the time parliament approved the export on November 3, its arms factories had been shipping arms to Ukraine for months.

Boyko Borisov (pictured) is a burly conservative who dominated Bulgarian political life from 2009 to 2021. Gerber In a country where Russia is widely admired, the party is pro-Western. His term as prime minister ends in May 2021 amid mass demonstrations over corruption allegations. There are no big parties in the political landscape right now. Policies toward Ukraine and Russia remain controversial. Bulgarians’ opinion of Vladimir Putin fell from 70% before the invasion of Ukraine to 29% after the invasion. But a poll in October found that 67 percent believed Bulgaria — NATO Members – should remain neutral, 16% for Ukraine, 9% for Russia.

Ruslan Stefanov of the Center for Democracy Studies, a think-tank in Sofia, said about a quarter of voters backed parties that “now call themselves patriotic but are essentially pro-Russian”. Other parties may call themselves the “Euro-Atlantic Alliance”. But they disagree on how, or even whether, to tackle high-level corruption.

The nationalist Ba’ath Party, one of two main pro-Russian groups, is now opposing Bulgaria’s adoption of the euro. Another, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), participated in the short-lived pro-Western government from December 2021 to June 2022. BSPA former minister of industry in that government, he spoke out against arms shipments to Ukraine. But as minister, she gave the green light to arms companies to ship them to third countries and from there to Ukraine.

Members of the same government helped broker an arrangement under which Lukoil, a Russian oil company with a strong presence in Bulgaria, continues to import and refine oil from Russia, then export much of it for use in Ukraine. (Officially, diesel is exported to companies in other countries, but they act as a pass-through for Ukrainian buyers.) Russia gets its export revenue from the oil, one person involved in the deal said. The Russians could live with this arrangement, calculating that “if they don’t sell oil to Ukraine, someone else will.”

Last June, Bulgaria expelled 70 Russian diplomats.Some allegedly tried to bribe representatives BSP; yet the party’s leader blamed the prime minister for arbitrarily firing them. In 2016, Russian military intelligence plotted to overthrow Mr Borisov’s government, Christo Grozev, a journalist who works with the open-source investigative group Bellingcat, told parliament in January. Many believe that the intervention was glossed over because of Russia’s economic importance to Bulgaria. Asen Vasilev, a reformist politician who served as finance minister until last August, has pointed out that most of the country’s graft is linked to Russia. “We thought we had two different problems: corruption and Russia. But it turns out it’s the same problem.”

In Bulgaria’s most recent election, held in October, Mr Borisov’s party won but failed to form a government.The latest opinion polls show that the coalition of pro-Western parties that had been in power until June last year and Gerber. If they win, they may have to choose between a pro-Russian alliance with Russia BSP Or take a photo with Mr. Borisov. In March 2022, when reformists took power, Mr Borisov was arrested in a graft investigation but acquitted. He denies any wrongdoing. In February, the US imposed sanctions on Borisov’s former finance minister, Vladislav Goranov, for corruption.

Much of Borisov’s power lies in his party’s control over most large towns. The real fight for the future therefore hinges on the results of local elections in October, Mr Vasiliev said. In fact, if next week’s general election is inconclusive, another general election will need to be held alongside local elections. Bulgaria is similar to Italy in the early 1990s, Mr Vasiliev said, when a campaign to root out mafia influence was accompanied by a series of short-lived governments. In Italy, however, an independent judiciary is able to fight corruption. In Bulgaria, Mr Vasiliev said, the judiciary was “totally controlled” by politicians and it was up to voters to rid themselves of corruption.

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