date: 5/25/2005 11:57 refid: 05SOFIA931 origin: Embassy Sofia classification: CONFIDENTIAL destination: 05SOFIA808 header: This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available. C O N F I D E N T I A L SOFIA 000931 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/25/2015 TAGS: BU, PGOV, PREL SUBJECT: THE "KING'S MOVEMENT": BULGARIA'S BEST HOPE? REF: SOFIA 0808 Classified By: Ambassador James Pardew, reasons 1.5(b) and (d). 1. (C) SUMMARY. Though current polls show it lagging behind the Socialists in the June 25 elections, the ruling National Movement Simeon II (NMSS) may play an important role in the next Bulgarian government -- either as the junior partner in a Socialist-led government or the core of a disparate center-right coalition. Recent surveys indicate that the former King's party is likely to be the second-largest group in the next National Assembly, winning between 50 and 70 seats in the 240-seat Assembly. Simeon,s intentions are currently the most speculated upon element of the campaign season. Some analysts believe Simeon could retain his position as Prime Minister if the Socialist need his party to form a government. Many NMSS supporters hope they can stop a Socialist government by putting together a broad, if fractious, center-right coalition. In either case, the NMSS would play an important role in continuing Bulgaria's pro-U.S. foreign policy. A successful showing by the NMSS, therefore, is in the U.S. interest. END SUMMARY. -------------------------------- NMSS Lagging as Campaign Begins --------------------------------- 2. (SBU) With the 30-day campaign season officially starting May 25, and more than 20 percent of the voters still undecided, the outcome of the election remains unpredictable. The latest poll, conducted earlier this month, shows the Socialists with 23 percent and the NMSS with 16 percent. Under Bulgaria's system of proportional representation, and if voter turnout follows the pattern of previous post-communist elections, this will give the Socialists (BSP) approximately 100 seats in parliament and the NMSS about 60 seats. The remaining 80 would be split among the Movement for Rights and Freedom (a predominantly Turkish party, currently in coalition with the NMSS) and several, dueling center-right parties. The numbers can be combined in several ways, but the most crucial issue is whether the Socialists will dominate the next government. 3. (C) If, as many Bulgarians expect, the Socialists win a plurality of seats, the King's party might still be necessary for them to form a government. While ideologically a liberal/ center-right party, many leading members of the NMSS have close personal connections to the Socialists. When the Movement was first formed in 2001, it drew support almost equally from the Left and the Right, and key figures such as Finance Minister Milen Velchev and Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov have Socialist pedigrees in either their own or their family background. Velchev, whose father was a Communist Party official, became close friends with current Socialist Party leader Sergei Stanishev when the two lived in London during the 1990's. ------------------------------ The Enigmatic Simeon ------------------------------ 4. (C) Simeon himself is generally viewed as either a pragmatist or an opportunist, depending on whom you ask. There is little evidence of strongly-held political ideology and his decisions -or even the issues he takes interest in- are difficult to predict. The Prime Minister listens to a small number of official and unofficial advisors, but appears to decide most issues for himself. Even those high in the NMSS structure indicate they have few insights into how Party decisions are made. Few, for example, knew in advance who would be included on the NMSS election lists. Despite its four years in power, the NMSS remains far more a "Movement" than a political party. There is still little party organization and Simeon,s (frequently absent) leadership style has given substantial power to individual ministers. Party discipline is rarely evident, yet Simeon commands great personal loyalty and party leaders immediately defer to his decisions. Much of the political class, believe Simeon wants badly to serve another term and have difficulty envisioning the ex-King as an opposition leader. For his part, Simeon has assured the nation he is here to stay, but remains enigmatic about his specific intentions. 5. (C) The price of the NMSS' participation in a center-left coalition would likely be the Prime Minster's job. Though it would be difficult for their core members to accept, the Socialists are desperate to avoid another four years out of power. There are also rumors that parts of the Socialist Party would prefer Simeon to BSP leader Sergei Stanishev as leader of the next government. A lack of confidence in the 39 year-old Stanishev to either control his party or lead a successful government regularly fuel reports that he would not be the Socialists, first choice. Many view Simeon -- with his hands-off management style -- as an acceptable alternative as long as the Socialists get control of key ministries. Perhaps the largest unanswered question is whether Simeon would allow the NMSS to join a Socialist coalition if he were not to be the Prime Minister. --------------------------------- Going Right or Left --------------------------------- 6. (C) A second alternative for the Simeon Movement is a center-right government built around an NMSS core in coalition with the 3-4 liberal/center-right parties expected to meet the 4 percent threshold for entering Parliament. While preferable from our perspective, it would also be an unstable grouping, already suffering from serious personal animosities and problematic egos. If given the opportunity, the NMSS would have to decide which would be easier to manage -- ideological differences on the left or personal conflicts on the right. Our contacts tell us the King,s Movement would prefer to go right, but that will ultimately depend on the number of seats captured. Simeon has reportedly instructed his party to refrain from any public discussion of a Socialist-NMSS coalition fearing it will scare off potential right-wing support. At the same time, political consultants working on the campaign have told us Simeon does not want the NMSS campaign to attack the Socialists. Whether this is reflective of Simeon,s courteous political nature, or a desire to keep his options open is yet to be seen. (Early advertising indicates the Socialists do not share Simeon,s compunction and will be launching frontal attacks on his 2001 promise of "800 days to an improved Bulgaria.") 7. (C) Comment: To date, it does not appear Iraq will be an important election issue, despite the widespread disapproval of Bulgaria,s military participation. The NMSS effectively neutralized the opposition with the decision to withdraw its troops at the end of 2005. Absent serious casualties or other unpleasant Iraqi news in the run-up to the election, the issue may stay in the background. While the current government falls short in some important areas -- primarily rule of law and transparent business practices - it has been a strong supporter of the U.S. internationally and a mostly predictable economic player domestically. An objective review of the government,s accomplishment provide a list of successes that many politicians would be happy to run on --NATO membership, EU Accession Agreement, billions in foreign investment, reduced unemployment and a stable economy. But despite the accomplishments, the average Bulgarian still focuses on the nation,s low wages, poor infrastructure, the deterioration of public health and education systems and the seemingly endless transition. To the extent that the NMSS plays a role in the next government, it will be a stabilizing one, especially if the Socialists emerge as the strongest party after the elections. The larger the combined NMSS, center-right vote, the more likely Simeon will stay in power.