These two men were not even known to the Bulgarian public six months ago. Both are Harvard graduates whose sudden fame gives them a chance to win power in the Bulgarian elections.
Their aim is to wipe out decades of corruption if they can form a coalition after parliamentary elections, the third this year, for the Balkan nation of seven million people.
Kiril Petkov, age 41, co-founder of We Continue the Change according to some looks like Hollywood star John Travolta.
This Harvard graduate has a clear vision for his country.
“Eradicating corruption doesn’t start in parliament, it starts with party formation and so far I’m proud to say that we’re really clean and clear about how we want to run the whole program and the whole party and we didn’t make a single exception. If someone misleads us, we will know it, but consciously we have taken every step to prevent any kind of influence from the old powers and from the old political investors who are the first to queue for procurement projects,” he said.
His colleague Asen Vasilev, 44, who also co-founded the organization We Continue the Change argues that funds lost to corruption and mismanagement should be funneled back into investment in health care and other social services as the European Union’s poorest member faces a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic. which brings disaster.
“What we’ve seen so far is a very good dance performance of people saying things they think the Bulgarian people want to hear and doing the exact opposite of what they say. I think for the first time, and that’s why we became a first in the poll, because we say what we really think and do what we say, it’s that simple.”
They quickly became a well-known team, earning praise for their efficient management and uncompromising approach to corruption.
Driven by this popularity, the two men founded their own movement, We Continue the Change, in September, attracting Bulgarian alumni from other well-known international universities.
Both Vasilev and Petkov, who grew up in Canada, returned to Bulgaria some fifteen years ago when the country joined the EU. They understand it is difficult to form a governing coalition in their country.
“We know it will be difficult (forming a governing coalition) but I think it is not impossible, as long as there are clear goals and open discussions with the parties and people who have constructive suggestions and input, who can become the majority,” he said.
The two men founded their own company, and taught a Harvard-supported program at Sofia University. Despite their elite education and years abroad, they say they are “pragmatists” who can represent the people.
Petkov told AFP during an interview at their party office in Sofia: “The role of the government is not to misappropriate funds but invest them efficiently, almost like a business, we want to get a return on taxpayers’ money.”
Perkov and Vasilev hope to garner enough votes to convince other anti-Borisov parties to join them to replace the public prosecutor – accused of protecting corruption – and establish a new body to fight corruption.
“The only, let’s say, attitude we don’t want to change is ending corruption, everything else is negotiable,” he said.
According to a recent poll, We Continue the Change could come in second with at least 13 percent of the vote, behind Borisov’s GERB, which is expected to get more than 22 percent.
At a recent meeting with supporters in the west of the country dozens of people turned to Petkov to ask questions, get his autograph and have their picture taken with him.
Gallup International Balkan analyst Parvan Simeonov said like politicians before them, the Harvard duo evoked a kind of “magical and irrational love” among Bulgarians as the latest “mission bearers”.
On the social network Facebook, the two men’s support group has tens of thousands of followers. [my/jm]