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Bulgarian Leaders Cast Their Ballots In General Election Forced By Government's Resignation

posted 12 May 2013, 05:14 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 12 May 2013, 05:15 ]

Leaders vote in Bulgarian elections overshadowed by scandal, gripped by voter apathy and strangled by high unemployment and low growth.

 SOFIABULGARIA (May 12, 2013) (REUTERS) - Bulgarians vote on Sunday (May 12) in an election forced by protests over poverty and corruption, with expectations of a close result that could leave the poorest EU country without a working government.

The rightist GERB party, which resigned after violent demonstrations in February, is running neck-and-neck with the Socialists. GERB pledges to keep debts under control, while the Socialists say they will spend more and create jobs.

But six years after Bulgaria joined the European Union, disaffection with the political elite as a whole is widespread in a country of 7.3 million where unemployment is close to an eight-year high.

The activists who brought down the GERB government plan more protests for polling day and a fifth of voters are still undecided which party to back in the parliamentary election.

While the euro zone has been preoccupied by its debt crisis, the troubles inBulgaria show the risks of growing political and economic upheavals on theEuropean Union's fringes.

Under GERB, Bulgaria has kept one of the lowest debt levels in the EU to maintain a currency peg to the euro, but the economy is expected to grow at only about 1 percent this year and the average monthly wage is 400 euros ($520).

Led by heavily built former bodyguard and prime minister Boiko Borisov, GERB has also suffered political damage from a wiretapping scandal. Bulgarian state security officers also seized 350,000 fake ballot papers from a printing house belonging to a GERB local councillor, prosecutors said on Saturday.

President Rosen Plevneliev urged people to vote to ensure a democratic Bulgariaas apathy, worsened by the country's scandals, takes a grip.

"I would never allow anybody to make decisions for the Bulgarian people. No matter what kind of a scenario stands behind, to destabilize the country, to weaken the democratic institutions, to reject election results, those scenarios have no chance at all, if people go out and vote. People who are behind this have no chance against millions of Bulgarians, who vote for their own country and it's future," Rosen Plevneliev, Bulgarian President said to reporters after the vote.

The leader of the opposition Socialists, Sergei Stanishev, exploited the scandals to promote his own party.

"It is extremely embarrassing, I am ashamed as a Bulgarian, and this is why we should carry out every possible measure to overcome this forgery and not to let it happen ever again because this is not European, this is not democratic.", Sergei Stanishev, leader of opposition socialist party said.

Election monitor Eoghan Murphy refused to be drawn on the ballot scandal saying the OSCE-sponsored monitors' job was to ensure the voting was free and fair.

"Well we are still waiting to get all the information on that, (referring to questionable ballots). Our job here is to observe and make an assessment and report and we will do that tomorrow at 1:30 to the press. Its not for us to investigate these matters its for Bulgarian authorities, we will be interested in their assessment of the situation and how they deal with the matter as reported ," said Eoghan Murphy, Irish MP, and OSCE co-ordinator.

A recent opinion poll gave GERB 24 percent support against 23.6 percent for the Socialists.

If GERB emerges as the biggest party in these elections it will be tasked with forming a government with other parties such as the nationalist Attack party and other small right of centre parties.

An interim government, appointed by the president and with limited powers, will stay in place until the new one is formed.

Some 6.9 million Bulgarians can vote in over 11,600 voting sections at home and abroad. Exit polls are expected at 8 p.m. (1700 GMT) and partial official results will be available early on Monday.