SOFIA, BULGARIA, DEC. 1 -- Just 55 miles from this capital city, where only the luckiest scavengers can scare up a potato, the farmhouse cellars of Koprivshtitsa are stuffed with thousands of tons of spuds.

Employing such care and stealth that they might be mistaken for drug smugglers, the farmers of Koprivshtitsa are hoarding potatoes illegally, waiting for the government in Sofia to pass long-delayed reforms that would enable them to sell at market prices. But despite this week's political upheaval in the capital, it is likely to be some time before the farmers -- or anyone else in the Balkan nation of 9 million people -- see their hopes realized.

After democratic revolutions swept Eastern Europe last year, Bulgaria was the only nation in the region that gave its ruling Communist Party a second life in free elections. In June, reform Communists, reorganized as the Socialist Party, won a majority in Bulgaria's new National Assembly and prepared to westernize a nation that had labored under an inefficient communist system since World War II.

But shaky discipline within the Socialists' ranks and adamant opposition by the increasingly popular Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), which opposed them in the June election, have prevented the Socialists from passing laws or even getting potatoes to market. Thursday, after a week of street demonstrations, parliamentary maneuvering and a decisive general strike, Prime Minister Andrei Lukanov resigned.

After five months, Bulgaria's experiment with democracy has brought it freedom of speech and empty shops. In most areas of the country, electric power is cut 12 hours a day. Sanitary napkins are so scarce that women must prove to a doctor that they are menstruating before they can buy any. Basic foods and gasoline are rationed. Milk has all but disappeared.

In the cities of a nation that never ran out of food in World War II or the darkest days of communism, there is now talk of famine.

The legislature charged with forging a program of economic reforms that will pull Bulgaria out of its tailspin is regarded by most people here as little more than the nation's most popular soap opera. In the week leading up to Lukanov's resignation, lawmakers scuffled on the floor of the Assembly and fought for microphones -- a spectacle that was broadcast live to thousands outside their chambers and around the nation.

"Everyone listens to parliament; they're fascinated," said Gavril Gavrilov, 65, a Koprivshtitsa shopkeeper. "They expected things to improve, but could see parliament was doing nothing."

While the politicians haggled over power, the peasants held out for land reform and for state buyers to raise their prices. Farmhouse cellars filled as urban shops emptied.

Hopes that Lukanov's resignation could reverse Bulgaria's bleak fortunes sparked euphoria across the nation this week, but removing him may have solved little. While the UDF clearly is in the ascendancy, the Socialist Party still holds a majority in the National Assembly, has strong support in the countryside and generally is more hard-line than Lukanov. The fractious legislature has to agree on a new prime minister and cabinet before getting to work on drafting a new constitution and reviving the economy.

"We're just back where we were in August {when Lukanov's government took office}, with no government, no progress and four more months lost," said Rumen Vodenicharov, an independent member of the Assembly.

Former dictator Todor Zhivkov, ousted in November 1989, left Bulgaria with a $10.6 billion debt, and losses resulting from the trade embargo imposed on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait stand at $1.7 billion. On top of that, said Atanas Paparizov, the minister for foreign economic relations, "nobody is working. Production is down 10 percent and salaries are up 22 percent."

Starting Jan. 1, when the former Eastern Bloc countries are to begin trading in hard currency, Bulgaria will lose $2 billion to $3 billion in trade, or 20 percent of its gross domestic product, Paparizov said. "No country can manage that," he said.

Paparizov said he is counting on help from the International Monetary Fund. But since March, when Bulgaria's central bank declared a moratorium on repaying the foreign debt, new creditors have been hard to find.

At a toilet paper and sanitary napkin factory in Belovo, Iordan Popov, the plant's production manager, spoke grudgingly of the problems he faces.

"We don't get as much cellulose or oil as we need anymore, because there is no money to import them," Popov, 44, explained. He said output was down 20 percent but would soon be back to normal.

But Valeri Spassov, who works at the Belovo town council, said the factory's production was in fact down 42 percent for the first nine months of 1990. Popov also did not mention that until an oil delivery two weeks ago, most of the plant had been closed for two months. The result has been chronic shortages of both toilet paper and sanitary napkins.

Popov's evasive approach to statistics is part of the old centralized system that leaders of the UDF have said only they, and not the system's creators, can erase. But because of the paralysis in the government, as parts of the old system crumble, nothing has replaced them.

Before Zhivkov was deposed, "We were a party organization. If we needed something, all we had to do was call," said Ianca Stoichkova, director of Sofia's Orphanage Number 8. Though her orphanage is one of the country's best supplied, it relies on local shops, now empty, for food. Stoichkova is not sure where the food will come from: "Now we have no one to call and we cannot force Bulgarians to help us."