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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Balkans Reject Leftists at Polls

PRAGUE -- Eastern Europe's electoral pendulum swung away from the left Monday in Bulgaria and Romania, but elsewhere in the former East Bloc and Yugoslavia, ex-communists are far from a spent force.


Results from weekend elections indicated many Balkan voters have lost patience with the failure of ex-communist rulers to ease poverty and deliver a kinder, gentler brand of reform.


In Bulgaria, reformist Petar Stoyanov headed for a clear victory in elections to the largely ceremonial presidency over the candidate of the ruling Socialists, Ivan Marazov.


With most votes counted, preliminary results gave Stoyanov, a lawyer, 59.9 percent of the vote to 40.1 percent for Marazov, who is culture minister in the Socialist government.


The picture was less clear in Bucharest.


There President Ion Iliescu, a communist during the rule of Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, led his centrist opposition rival, Emil Constantinescu, in presidential elections.


But even if Iliescu wins a runoff in two weeks' time, he may have to learn the art of political "cohabitation" for the first time since Ceausescu's violent overthrow seven years ago.


First results from simultaneous parliamentary polls showed Constantinescu's Democratic Convention, or CDR, which borrowed from the left's vocabulary by promising to tackle widespread poverty, strong enough to lead a reformist coalition.


In elections to the lower Chamber of Deputies, the CDR led with 30.8 percent of the vote, compared with 20.8 percent for Iliescu's Party of Social Democracy.


Only the rump Yugoslavia provided much hope for the left.


In Belgrade, the leftist coalition of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic said it was heading for a comfortable victory in federal and municipal polls over the weekend.


"It is not a question whether we are going to win. It is rather the question of how resounding our victory will be," said Slobodan Cerovic, a leading member of the influential coalition partner Yugoslav United Left, or JUL.


Cerovic spoke after initial results of federal and municipal elections indicated Milosevic's coalition would prevail in rump Yugoslavia's first elections since the end of four years of war in the Balkans.


According to partial results from the federal and municipal elections, announced by Milosevic's Socialist Party spokesman Ivica Dacic, the left was leading in nearly all major towns in Serbia and Montenegro, the two remaining Yugoslav republics.


What remains of Yugoslavia has all the economic problems that afflict its Balkan neighbors, but the consequences of war in Bosnia and Croatia have also played a special role.


Milosevic supporters said the results in rump Yugoslavia's first elections since the end of four years of war showed popular endorsement for his new peacemaking policies.


Elsewhere in post-communist Europe, signs are growing that the swing to the left of recent years may be over.


It is too early to speak of a regionwide trend, but the Bulgarian and Romanian polls follow the defeat of ex-communists in Lithuania last month by nationalists who led the independence drive from Soviet dominance in 1990 to 1991.


In Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Lithuania, voters tried out the center-right after 1989 before turning to ex-communists and their offers of relief from the upheaval of reform.


But some leftist governments have found it easier to slow the pace of reform than to improve living standards. Economic crisis has also pushed some into the arms of the International Monetary Fund, or IMF, and its prescriptions of austerity.


In Sofia, financial markets were more interested in the weekend arrival of an IMF mission that must decide whether to grant Bulgaria $110 million in new credits.


If the answer is no, the country could default on its $10-billion foreign debt.


In Hungary, Socialist Prime Minister Gyula Horn has imposed austerity policies that have slashed real wages by over 10 percent in the past two years.


But in Hungary and in Poland, which faces parliamentary elections next year, reformed communist governments seem relatively secure due in part to divided oppositions.