Bulgarians seek overhaul of 'corrupt' political system

Just five months after massive anti-poverty rallies brought down the government, Bulgarians are back on the streets, marching this time for an overhaul of a "corrupt" political system.

Up to 10,000 protesters have rallied in Sofia every evening since June 14, shouting "Mafia!" and "Resign!", angrily demanding that politicians sever their ties with oligarchs.

Analysts say new elections -- by mid-2014 at the latest -- are the only way out of the crisis, but Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski has repeatedly refused to step down, warning that fresh polls would only destabilise the country and ruin the fragile economy of the European Union's poorest country.

Oresharski told parliament on Friday he was listening to the protesters, and hoping to convince them to appreciate his efforts to improve the social and economic situation.

These included, according to the prime minister, measures undertaken by his administration to ease poverty and unemployment and boost economic recovery.

The measures offered higher maternity allowances and one-off payments for first-graders, more jobs and internships for people under the age of 29 and higher scope of heating aid programmes for the poorest.

But 24-year-old artist Viktoria Katova told AFP at a rally, "Things can't get any worse. I'd rather go for 10 snap elections in a row than put up with this corrupt, insolent political class that pretends it does not notice us".

Another protester, physical education teacher Nikolay Staykov, 55, was similarly outraged: "This isn't democracy. Bulgaria has been parcelled out to different business circles... what we have here is a state mafia."

"All the parties are the same... We must wipe all that out and build the political system up from scratch," he said, adding that new elections were "an absolute necessity".

The deep ties between the country's top businessmen and politicians have been cultivated over the past 24 years of post-communist transition.

Examples of collusion between the two are rife, with top businessmen often rumoured to be influencing judicial appointments and politicians pushing through legislation that would favour big corporate interests.

A recent Transparency International study showed that 76 percent of Bulgarians thought all political parties were corrupt.

The latest wave of protests was set off by the June 14 appointment of a 32-year-old media mogul, Delyan Peevski, to the country's top security agency post.

The government reversed the appointment of the young and inexperienced tycoon, but it was unable to hold back public anger.

Evening after evening, a noisy crowd of protesters has marched on Sofia's boulevards, paralysing traffic for hours and holding banners with slogans demanding political change.

Popular writers, actors and musicians have joined in the rallies.

Sixty prominent intellectuals, lawyers, journalists and human rights activists on June 23 issued a special declaration calling for an end to rule by the wealthy and a restoration of democracy and the rule of law.

Long-supported by President Rosen Plevneliev, the protesters also got unprecedented backing this week from the French and German ambassadors who argued that oligarchic influence had "no place" in Bulgaria.

"The oligarchy thrived because before there was no civil pressure, no resistance by society whatsoever," Alpha research analyst Boryana Dimitrova told AFP.

But today, Bulgaria's young, urban middle class is seeking political representation through their "protest of values", added the analyst.

Analysts say however that it would be years before the protesters see the change they are seeking.

"The problem is not the elections. No matter how many snap votes we have, the results will not be different until the participants in these elections change," said Yuliy Pavlov, an analyst with the Centre for Analysis and Marketing.

"We are speaking here about a revolution, a total rearrangement of the political system based on new ethics and morals that would take years," said political expert Evgeniy Daynov from the New Bulgarian University.

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