Published by Wikileaks & Bivol.bg
 date: 6/18/2009 8:01 refid: 09SOFIA301 origin: Embassy Sofia classification: CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN destination:  header: VZCZCXRO6792 OO RUEHSL DE RUEHSF #0301/01 1690801 ZNY CCCCC ZZH O 180801Z JUN 09 FM AMEMBASSY SOFIA TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6081 INFO RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 SOFIA 000301    SIPDIS    E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/17/2028  TAGS: PGOV, PREL, BU  SUBJECT: BULGARIA: FROM PRISON TO PARLIAMENT    Classified By: Ambassador McEldowney for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)    1.  (SBU)  SUMMARY:  Corrupt, compromised and even recently  incarcerated candidates appear poised to enter parliament in  this summer's national elections.  In the latest negative  development, a June 16 court decision freed the notorious  Galevi brothers on bail, pending their trial on racketeering  and money laundering charges.  This ruling enables them to  campaign for local parliamentary seats, gaining temporary  immunity from prosecution.  Meanwhile, fringe and extremist  parties hover at the threshold for parliamentary  representation.  Leader (founded by shady energy boss Hristo  Kovachki) and Order, law and Justice (OLJ, founded by Yane  Yanev, a political charlatan) both have suspiciously large  and opaque funding streams and are positioned to draw votes  from the mainstream parties.  The ultra-nationalist Ataka  will grab close to ten percent.  Turnout by a "soft"  electorate )- notably undecided and floating voters  disgusted with politics and prone to protest parties )- may  well determine the race.  While the outcome is still very  much in the air, there is a strong stench of malevolent  manipulation of the electoral system by entrenched and  unscrupulous interests.  END SUMMARY.    GET OUT OF JAIL FREE CARD?    2.  (SBU)  Bulgarians had thought they had seen it all when  it comes to stacking the electoral decks.  They were wrong.  Accused criminals are now brazenly running for elected office  in a transparent attempt to escape justice, taking advantage  of a constitutional provision that grants members of  parliament immunity from prosecution.  Registered candidates  for Parliament are also immune from prosecution during the  3-week campaign period.  The infamous Galevi brothers,  powerful mafia leaders in the town of Dupnitsa, just south of  Sofia, have registered as candidates for Parliament.  Despite  blistering media commentary and national revulsion, one of  the two has a chance to win thanks to a well-oiled  vote-buying machine, coercion and local connections.    CHEAPER TO BECOME AN MP THAN BUY THEM    3.  (C)   The Leader party, the creation of a widely  considered corrupt businessman, is another stain on  Bulgaria's image.  An energy magnate, currently being  investigated for massive tax fraud, Kovachki was ranked last  year as the second richest Bulgarian (after another reputed  crime boss) and 98th richest person in Eastern Europe.  The  source of Kovachki's wealth remains a mystery; he has amassed  a mini-energy empire based on coal, suggesting ties to  criminal elements in the extractive industries sector and  insider deals with government officials and patrons.  He is a  known associate of influential underworld figures involved in  various smuggling and racketeering operations.  His party  claims to represent business interests and supports EU  integration and transparent government (sic).    4.  (C)  It is widely believed that, tired of paying bribes  to sitting MPs, Kovachki established the party as a more  direct and cost-effective way to expand his political  influence.  His party gained notoriety for its vote-buying  success in local elections last year and has allegedly used  coercion to force employees at Kovachki's many business  operations to support the party.  Although Leader barely  missed the threshold for a seat in the European Parliament,  polls show that the party has a realistic shot of entering  the next national parliament.  With support currently  hovering around four percent, Leader could enter the  240-member parliament with perhaps 10-15 seats.  If so, it  will leverage its representation to bargain its way into a  coalition government.  Though none of the traditional center  right parties have much use for Leader, its vote could be the  margin for coalition formation.  Leader is likely to siphon  votes from front-leading GERB to the benefit of the Bulgarian  Socialist Party (BSP) and ethnic Turkish MRF, suggesting that  there is a tacit underground alliance of interests between  them.    A "CLOWN" FIGHTS CORRUPTION?    5.  (C)  A new entry in the political landscape is the Order,  Law and Justice party centered on Yane Yanev, dubbed "the  clown of Bulgarian politics".  Yanev rose to prominence in  recent months by making outrageous and defamatory claims  against the current government.  OLJ party funding sources  are entirely unclear, though sufficient for a very slick new  office headquarters and top flight consultants.  His campaign  motto is "Let's Stop Corruption," but his commitment is paper  thin.  Filled with political opportunists, OLJ lacks  credibility.   Most analysts believe Yanev is a creation of  the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party designed to take votes  away from its more mainstream rival GERB.  Yanev claims OLJ  has 38,000 members and a national organization, but after an    SOFIA 00000301  002 OF 002      early surge in public interest, its popularity may have  peaked.  OLJ currently polls around 4.69 percent, which would  be just enough to enter parliament.    PROTEST, RADICAL VOTE BOOST ATAKA CHANCES    6.  (C)  The extreme nationalist party Ataka, which won two  seats in the European Parliament, is certain to enter  Parliament.  Ataka is strongly and vocally anti-NATO and  anti-U.S. and relies on populist anti-government and  anti-minority rhetoric.  Autocratic party leader Volen  Siderov is a well-known journalist who gained notoriety for  his outbursts in parliament.  Infighting, defections, and  high-profile scandals that eroded Ataka's parliamentary group  over the past four years have not undermined Ataka's  electoral support.  Portraying itself as the only real  alternative to the status quo, Ataka brands all major parties  as "political mafia."  It attracts the protest vote of the  extreme left and right and draws support from people living  on the margins of society and former army and security  officers.  It fills a specific electoral niche by offering  easy solutions to painful social problems and speaking openly  about sensitive ethnic issues considered taboo by the  mainstream parties.    7.  (C)  Over the past year, Ataka has modulated its tone in  hopes of becoming respectable enough to join the next ruling  coalition.  It has shaded its anti-Western/U.S.,  anti-Turkish, and anti-Roma rhetoric, focusing instead on the  plight of the elderly and combating widespread corruption.  At the same time, Ataka maintains its rebellious image by  boycotting parliamentary sessions and sharpening its  anti-government rhetoric.  It successfully exploits ethnic  Bulgarians' distaste for the ethnic Turkish MRF, a junior  coalition partner widely viewed as a vehicle for corruption.  (Ataka and MRF symbiotically use each other in galvanizing  their bases.)  Despite Ataka's attempts to moderate its  message, mainstream parties consider it a coalition partner  of last resort.    8.  (SBU)  COMMENT:  Crooks and cranks are crowding the  Bulgarian political scene.  While the majority of Bulgarian  voters will back traditional parties, many are so disgusted  by them that they look for alternatives and see few  attractive choices.  The irony is that voter disillusionment  can translate into more miscreants entering Parliament.  Low  turnout increases the impact of vote buying and elevates the  chance that small corrupt parties will do well.  That would  damage Bulgaria's already tarnished image, complicate  coalition formation, increase domestic tension, and snarl  relations with us and the EU.  While Bulgaria's overall  foreign policy would not appreciably change, a weak and  indecisive coalition government would face painful economic  decisions.  And it would feed into more voter alienation.  That's a worst case outcome, but we should not discount it.    McEldowney 

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