Maxim Behar: Young Bulgarians are not interested in populist promises

Maxim Behar and Associate Professor Ivelina Hristova commented on the direction of the election campaign ten days before the 2-in-1 elections in the show "Your Day" on television NOVA NEWS, hosted by Lora Indzhova.

Host (Lora Indzhova): We are discussing in our studio ten days before the elections with PR experts Maxim Behar and Associate Professor Ivelina Hristova. Hello and welcome!

Maxim Behar: Good afternoon!

Host: How are you feeling today - 10 days before the vote - about the upcoming 2-in-1 election? How does the situation look to you, listening to the candidates?

Maxim: I wish that the participants from the problematic billboard – ex-Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov, former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov and former Director of the State Agency for National Security could meet in person so we could hear their thoughts and how they believe Bulgaria will move in a better direction after June 15-20. Occasionally, we see a party leader on TV or in pre-election meetings. Still, we usually see people who are part of the party entourage and don't hear any revolutionary proposals and strategies to break away from the economic crisis.

Host: By the way, Mr. Behar, yesterday I took this plot line from the campaign and asked my guests, who were political observers, whether holding a leadership debate - something we haven't seen in years - could motivate voters to go to the polls.

Maxim: Parliamentary and European elections largely overlap because, ultimately, one of our MEPs must do what a Bulgarian MP must do regarding Bulgarian matters – laws and order. I don't believe there will be anything revolutionary or very extravagant to motivate voters for greater turnout during voting. However, I think a leadership debate or any kind that shows very straightforward proposals and interesting strategies could at least tip the scales towards one political party or movement for which people might vote. I know dozens of people, and many of my friends say they are disappointed big time and don't know who to vote for. There must be debates. I don't believe the candidates are that persistent or have a great desire to participate in these debates. I don't even think that the leadership debates will take place before the end of the campaign. But if it happens, it will ease the choice for those who want to vote. I only see populism in enormous quantities, pouring from all possible screens, billboards, newspapers, radios, and whatnot. I have always claimed that there should be a control system over these promises. If this system is electronic and even uses artificial intelligence, it should report what politicians have accomplished every 3 or 6 months, and if they haven't fulfilled their promises, they should vacate their positions.

Host: Are you ready to go even deeper into the discussion about the existing communication problems of Bulgarian politicians leading this campaign? Where do you see the issues?

Maxim: This is a negative campaign where some people smear others. I am incredibly disappointed to see this happening, even among small political parties that should represent the more intelligent part of society. And I don't want to offend other voters. Some people are more involved in business, earn better, have better education, and others don't have these ambitions. However, these small political parties use the same approach, which is highly disappointing and means they lack arguments and thoughtful messages to send to their voters. Everything happening in pre-election meetings is a copy of what has been happening in the last 30 years in Bulgarian politics. The supporters of one party or another would gather and talk only about their side. Very few innovative and meaningful ideas are aimed at attracting voters to switch parties.

Host: Here I ask you how to attract voters, not those from the core who will vote for a particular political formation, but those who need to know who to vote for.

Maxim: Here and there, we see small players who can attract more votes because we all know that the Bulgarian political space and political scene are in desperate need of a new political formation that is fresh, original, engaging, and at the same time has a practical economic plan on how to move forward. However, these political players are an absolute minority. They cannot generally attract any voters from another political force, except with populism and promises. But it's 2024 – we've been playing this game for 34 years. First, Generation Z or Y – people under 30 – almost do not care about these promises. They have their idols and heroes.

Host: This is an interesting question we need to discuss – how does Generation Z make their choices?

Maxim: They hear people who speak a language or vocabulary close to their age group. The same is true in my company and everywhere in business. When you want to talk to someone 30-40 years younger than you, you have to speak their language, not yours. I don't see a political force in Bulgaria trying to do this. Generation Z is a huge mass of voters – those who have returned from abroad and people voting for the first time. They are not interested in promises about pensions, social security, or taxes. Instead, they want to see someone speaking their language and provide them with comfort in Bulgaria because this is the easy-going generation. This generation hasn't waited in line for bread, hasn't seen a crisis, and has always had everything. And thank God – I am glad there is such a generation. But they will not be swayed by promises or populist messages. It's more likely for them not to vote at all.

Host: At the end of our conversation, let's return to the topic of the parties. We dedicated time to the voters and will continue to talk about voter turnout and what we will see in terms of activity on June 9 from all of us. However, do politicians make a mistake with this fierce differentiation and distancing from each other? Today, in our political discussions during the pre-election campaign, the two main formations that established the 9-month regular cabinet speak as if they have never governed together or declared their mutual support. However, this leaves a bitter taste in the voter's mouth and raises questions. There is a need for an explanation – how was it possible before, and now it isn't? And this is a bilateral question, not just for one formation or another.

Maxim: That’s another reason for great disappointment. In practice, none of the political formations that participated in the previous 9-month cabinet, which was quite decent – with a straightforward program and pleasant people who knew what they were talking about – wanted to be related to the other, and this caused great disappointment among the people. There is nothing to divide – that was the postulate a year ago when the same people created the so-called "assembly" or coalition. Now, there is a great likelihood that the same thing will happen. The Bulgarian political landscape remembers many such cases. For example, King Simeon II said he would never ally with the Bulgarian Socialist Party. Still, they formed the Triple Coalition along with the Movement for Rights and Freedoms. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms is always a piece of chewing gum for the game among different politicians, who ultimately always ally with them and always work together - it is a significant factor. In summary, we need a leadership debate and unconventional and innovative economic ideas that as many people as possible can understand, and then we will have a slightly higher turnout in the elections. But just saying what we need doesn't mean it will happen. Therefore, it is crucial for Bulgaria to see these people from the mentioned billboard debating in TV studios. If this happens, we will have high political activity and concrete demands on different candidates. If it doesn't happen – history will repeat itself.

Host: Thank you for this conversation and analysis. I look forward to seeing you after the results on June 9 to see what part of our discussion with our viewers will come true after that. Thank you!

Maxim: Have a nice day!


Watch the full interview here.

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