By Slav Okov
Date: 26/3/2017
Former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s Gerb party won early elections in Bulgaria for the third time since 2009, giving it the upper hand over the more pro-Russian Socialists in forming a government, an exit poll showed.
Gerb won 32.2 percent of votes, which would give it up to 88 of parliament’s 240 seats, according to an Alpha Research poll released Sunday on national television after voting ended. The Bulgarian Socialist Party, successor to the Communist Party, was second with 28 percent. Six other parties passed the 4 percent threshold needed to enter parliament, Alpha said. The first partial official results are due Monday morning.

Gerb and the Socialists both campaigned to revive economic ties with Russia to benefit voters in the European Union’s poorest nation who feel let down a decade after joining the bloc. But the Socialists vowed to go furthest, by vetoing EU sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s government. The election in the NATO member of 7 million people was triggered when Borissov resigned after his candidate lost November’s presidential ballot to a Russia-friendly Socialist.

“A GERB-led coalition government would generally sustain the current policy direction,” Andrius Tursa, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London, said in an emailed note before the vote. “Domestically, it would continue slow-paced business-oriented reforms and stick to its prudent management of public finances. In the international domain, it would retain close relations with the EU and NATO, supporting the common western stance toward Russia.”

Taxes, Trade

Both parties say they’ll rekindle Russian energy projects such as the South Stream natural gas pipeline to boost the economy, which expanded 3.4 percent last year and trails growth in neighboring Romania, another 2007 EU entrant. Bulgaria’s failure to tackle corruption has kept wages low and public services inefficient. It’s ranked worst in the EU for graft by Transparency International.

Borissov, a 57-year-old ex-bodyguard whose first cabinet fell to anti-austerity protests in 2013, wants to keep Bulgaria’s 10 percent flat rate of income tax and maintain a balanced fiscal policy. The Socialists propose progressive taxation and oppose the EU’s free-trade pact with Canada.

A possible coalition partner for both is the United Patriots, a nationalist alliance that came third with 9.5 percent of votes, according to Alpha. The group stoked tensions in the runup to the election by blocking border crossings over claims neighboring Turkey plans to bus over Bulgarian expatriates to vote for a party linked to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Other possible partners in a ruling coalition may include the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, which represents ethnic Turks, with 9.7 percent of the votes according to Alpha. A new party, Will, of businessman Vesselin Mareshki, the owner of a pharmacy chain and petrol filling stations, got 5.1 percent and the Reformers Bloc, Borissov’s junior coalition partner in the previous cabinet, is forecast to win 4 percent.