Winter of discontent looms over Bulgarian election

Mizia (Bulgaria) (AFP) - To get a picture of the poverty, misery and anger at politicians ahead of October 5 elections in Bulgaria, the EU's poorest country, look no further than Mizia.

This northwestern town and its mostly elderly population of 3,300 was devastated by floods in August that turned the streets into muddy brown rivers, swamping 800 houses and killing two.

Seven weeks later the devastation remains. Many houses are being torn down with heavy machinery and large piles of bricks, roof tiles and furniture still litter the streets.

Natural disasters have killed 29 people in Bulgaria this year, but in Mizia, as in other cases, locals say that corrupt politicians, rather than nature, are to blame -- an assessment that environmentalists support.

According to Petko Tsvetkov from the Sofia-based Biodiversity Foundation "rampant illegal logging in the past years" and "feeble control of private dams" are among the major causes for such destructive floods.

"We are desperate, left to battle for our living here all by ourselves," said Mizia resident Mitka Androva, a thin, greying woman with a haggard look whose home is marked for demolition.

"People are fed up. Politicians only care about filling up their own pockets and for the people nothing, only suffering," the 77-year-old told AFP.

"No one will vote! For what, for them to live well and for us to suffer?" Tsenka Krocheva, a 70-year-old Roma woman, asked angrily near her ruined home.

- Boyko's back -

The rest of 7.4-million-strong Bulgaria may not be in quite such a dire state, but 25 years after the end of communism disdain for politicians is widespread.

According to a recent study by the Open Society Institute, 69 percent of Bulgarians describe the situation in the country as "unbearable".

The average monthly salary is 400 euros ($515), the average pension 150 euros and every fifth household lives below the poverty line.

Just 17 months ago, in February 2013, Bulgarians fed up with dire poverty and high energy bills took to the streets and forced the resignation of right-wing premier Boyko Borisov.

Subsequent elections brought the left into power and even though they installed a technocrat prime minister, protests -- this time against cronyism and corruption -- continued. He too quit in July this year.

But next month, in Bulgaria's second snap general election in less than two years, it is Borisov's GERB party that looks set to return to power, opinion polls show.

"Borisov will return to power not because people believe that he will do miracles, but because there is no one else right now to entrust with governing the state," Centre for Liberal Strategies analyst Ivan Krastev said.

- Harsh winter -

The new government will have its work cut out, with the economy barely growing, unemployment stuck at 10 percent, prolonged deflation and the country struggling to attract foreign investment.

In addition, it looks set to be a tough winter.

An almost 10-percent rise in state-regulated electricity prices from October 1 will deepen misery in the country where 80 percent of families struggle to pay their energy bills.

Bulgaria gets 85 percent of its gas from Russia via crisis-hit Ukraine. Looming cuts in deliveries might leave thousands of households shivering while dealing industry a hard blow.

"The probability for problems with the deliveries is very high and we are bracing for a crisis," Deputy Premier Ekaterina Zaharieva warned.

Another hot potato in the new cabinet's cupboard will be the fourth-largest lender Corporate Commercial Bank (CCB), which is on the brink of bankruptcy after a run by distressed depositors in June.

The accounts of thousands of private depositors, private and state-owned firms, municipalities and hospitals are currently blocked, sparking protests in Sofia.

Back in Mizia, people say they have no money in a bank anyway.Their cares are simpler.

"We sleep in a car now. I have no idea how we'll make it through the winter," Krocheva said.

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