To begin with, the change from communist rule took place smoothly in Bulgaria and the transition was even described as a ‘gentle revolution’. The veteran communist leader, Todor Zhivkov, in power since 1954 as party chief and since 1971 as president of the republic, was forced to resign when a majority of the members of the Party Presidium led by Petar Mladenov, Foreign Minister since 1971, turned against him in November 1989. Mladenov was then appointed to replace Zhivkov in both offices.
Mladenov was soon confronted with mass demonstrations demanding the end of the single-party system and free elections. He responded at first by appointing as prime minister Andrey Lukanov, a communist leader with a reputation of reformer under the Zhivkov regime who had been removed from the council of ministers in 1987. The opposition, recently united as the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), was not convinced and demonstrations continued. Mladenov had no alternative but to announce the end of the single-party system and the introduction of free elections. The name of the Bulgarian Communist Party was changed to Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). Negotiations began between the former communists and the opposition at the ‘round table talks’ over a wide range of economic and political issues, including the forthcoming parliamentary elections and the format of the new constitutional assembly.
The election took place in June 1990. The BSP obtained 44 per cent of the votes and an overall majority of 211 seats out of 400 as against 38 per cent of the votes and 144 seats for the UDF, the third place going to the party defending the rights of the Turkish minority, the Movement for Rights and Freedom (MRF), which obtained 24 seats.
Yet, soon after this victory, the BSP suffered a major setback. It was revealed that Mladenov had wanted to send tanks against demonstrators in late 1989. He had to resign in July 1990 and was replaced in August by