Bulgarian Socialists vow to help poor, look to form coalition

Reuters News
Posted: May 20, 2013 11:23 AM
Bulgarian Socialists vow to help poor, look to form coalition

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria's Socialists revealed a plan on Monday to speed payments to business and boost support for the poorest in a bid to win support for a technocrat government and end a political deadlock after an inconclusive election.

No party won a majority in the May 12 vote, but the center-right GERB party got the most votes so will have the first go at forming a coalition. GERB has been shunned by other parties however after protests against poverty and corruption toppled it from power, so it's of leading a new government are next to zero.

The Socialists though, with their ethnic Turkish MRF allies, are just one seat short of majority and are more likely to win support of nationalist Attack or individual parliamentarians from Attack, or even GERB.

The president, who is to convene parliament on Tuesday, has appealed to party leaders to form a working government so Sofia can negotiate its EU's funding needs until 2020, draft the country's 2014 budget and calm investors.

Mindful of strong public anger with politicians for failing to boost low living standards since the 1989 fall of communism, the Socialists are seeking broad support for a government of experts led by former finance minister, Plamen Oresharski.

"We need quick measures to address electricity and medicine costs, give business a breath of fresh air to work and see what we can do for new jobs," Socialist leader Sergei Stanishev told a party meeting.

Failure to address unemployment that hit an eight-year high in February and incomes that are less than half the EU average could spark new protests like those that toppled GERB, possibly in the autumn when cold weather raises power and heating bills.

The Socialists pledged to find ways to keep electricity costs down and to offer support for the poor to pay them.

They also said they would speed up an estimated 1 billion levs ($655.87 million) in delayed payments of state invoices to businesses and ensure small companies have easier access to credit to boost weak domestic demand.

The Socialists have yet to say how they plan to finance their social measures and will have to negotiate their ideas to cut tax for poor Bulgarians with MRF and Attack.

Bulgaria's small and open economy grew by meager 0.4 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of this year. The government sees full-year growth at about 1 percent.

Because of a currency board arrangement pegging its lev to the euro, Bulgaria needs to keep its fiscal deficits small, a policy all political parties have declared they want to maintain.

($1 = 1.5247 Bulgarian levs)

(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Jon Hemming)