CEOL
Support for Bulgaria government at record low

SOFIA, May 12, 2000 -- (Reuters) Support for Bulgaria's three-year-old reformist government has fallen to record lows in the face of economic hardships and allegations of high-level corruption, according to new polls.

A survey by Gallup's local branch released on Thursday said confidence in the cabinet of the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) led by Ivan Kostov slipped to 19 percent in early May from 20 percent in April and 36 percent a year ago.

A total of 53 percent said Kostov should step down, it said.

"Economic difficulties for many in the society, cynicism and corruption of those in power are main reasons for the falling public support," BBSS Gallup head Kancho Stoichev said.

"Bulgarians are not against economic reforms but against their poor implementation," he told a news conference.

Opinion polls are not completely reliable in Bulgaria. But another poll, released by the local MBMD agency on Friday, also showed that support for the UDF cabinet at record lows in late April, standing at 27 percent compared with 33 in March. MBMD's May data were not available.

"It looks like a hurricane has swept across the country's political scene - confidence in the elite is broken, hopes for improvement in the situation have vanished," the local 24 Chasa daily newspaper quoted MBMD head Mira Yanova as saying.

Both Yanova and Stoichev referred to a series of scandals reported by the local media in the second half of April.

Former Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev, sacked in December in a cabinet reshuffle, has accused Kostov of failing to react to reports of graft among government officials and said the premier should resign.

Most cabinet officials have denied any wrongdoing but one has been suspended and another stepped down over graft charges.

Political turbulence has come at a time when the jobless rate stands at record high of nearly 19 percent.

In the BBSS Gallup poll, 62 percent said their standard of living was falling while four percent said it was improving.

Both polls showed the main opposition party, the Socialists, had so far failed to capitalize on UDF problems. Kostov and his party came to power in 1997 after street protests forced out a Socialist government accused of economic mismanagement.

If elections had been held last Sunday, 21 percent would have voted for the UDF against 16 percent for the ex-communist Socialists, the MBMD survey showed.

A general election is due in 2001.

"The crisis of confidence in the government has turned into a crisis of confidence in the whole political class," said Gallup's Stoichev.



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