Boyko Borisov: Bulgaria's karate-kicking comeback king

Sofia (AFP) - Boyko Borisov, who said he wants to form Bulgaria's next government despite his party falling well short of a majority in Sunday's elections, is not someone to shy from a fight.

Whether his black belt in karate, huge physical presence and former jobs as fireman, bodyguard and policeman will help him in this task remains to be seen, however.

The son of a police officer and a teacher, Borisov graduated from Sofia police academy and worked as a firefighter before setting up his own security company in 1991.

He provided protection for Bulgaria's communist dictator Todor Zhivkov after he was pushed from power in 1989, and in the mid-1990s for former King Simeon Saxe Coburg after the latter returned from 50 years in exile.

"I had the unique chance to interact, in an informal setting, with both the number one of communism and his antipode, the ex-monarch. What I heard from them taught me how to understand history and the mechanisms of power," Borisov told AFP in a 2009 interview.

Saxe Coburg, who later become prime minister, picked Borisov to be chief of staff in the interior ministry in 2001, and three years later promoted him to the highest rank in the police.

But Borisov's ambitions went further. He left the ministry to win election as mayor of the capital Sofia as an independent candidate and in 2006 formed his own political party, GERB.

- Rampant corruption -

In 2009, he put his down-to-earth charm to good use to win legislative elections nationally and become prime minister at the head of a minority government.

Once in power, he toured the country incessantly to inaugurate infrastructure projects, but failed to enact structural reforms or tackle the rampant corruption and organised crime that Brussels has long complained about.

Political analysts, meanwhile, highlighted his tendency to backtrack on important decisions if he found them unpopular.

The end came in the winter of 2012-13, when Bulgarians angry about corruption and poverty -- one in five households live below the poverty line -- took to the streets across the country.

Resigning in February 2013, he still came first in elections three months later, but he was unable to form a government. Instead the left and the Turkish minority party installed a technocrat administration.

But that government only lasted 14 months before throwing in the towel in July, giving Borisov another shot at the top.

And this time he has steered clear of big political rallies, cultivating an older-and-wiser image, someone who can bring stability.

"I want to govern, in person," the 55-year-old said on Sunday. "I am ready to take all the risks to govern the country."

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