Author: Georgi Gotev
Former Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s centre-right GERB party won 32.7% of the votes in the parliamentary election on Sunday (26 March), data from the central electoral commission showed today (27 March), with 78.9% of the ballots counted.
The leftist Socialists (BSP) came in second with 26.8% of the vote, followed by the nationalist alliance United Patriots with 9.1%.
The BSP managed to almost double its score from the last election – Borisov’s was roughly the same – under new leader Kornelia Ninova, although exit polls had suggested a tighter race.
A victory for the Socialists would have raised the prospect of the NATO member of 7.4 million people in south-eastern Europe tilting closer to Russia.
Two more political parties will enter the Balkan country’s next parliament – the ethnic Turkish “Movement for rights and Freedoms” (DPS) with 8.4% and the populist “Volya” (Will) party with 4.1%. Its leader Veselin Mareshki, sometimes called the Bulgarian Donald Trump, has promised to turn politics upside down and fight the monopolies.
Mareshki owns a chain of petrol stations and pharmacies and succeeds in selling fuel and medicines at prices well below the rest of the competition.
Not a single one of the three small centre-right parties was able to cross the 4% threshold.
A new political party ‘DOST’ (‘friend’ in Turkish), was recently set up by Lyutvi Mestan, the former leader of the DPS, the party that historically represented ethnic Turks in Bulgaria. DOST, which is widely perceived as a political project designed by Ankara, obtained 2.9% and will not be represented in the 240-seat parliament.
Final official results are expected on Thursday (30 March).
Whether Borissov, the burly former firefighter and former bodyguard for Bulgaria’s last communist leader, can form a government – and one that lasts – remains to be seen.
Borissov triggered the early elections by resigning last November, when his candidate in the presidential election lost to the socialist-backed candidate Rumen Radev, former head of the air force and a newcomer to politics.
Borissov has long dominated national politics, serving as premier from 2009 to 2013 and again from 2014 to 2017.
Socialists reject grand coalition
Alexander Andreev, a journalist with Deutsche Welle, said that his sources in Berlin said that the German government would prefer to see a grand coalition in Bulgaria.
But Ninova ruled out that possibility in her first statement after the announcement of the first results.
Borissov has ruled out a coalition with DPS. This leaves him the options to try to form a coalition with ‘Volya’ and the United Patriots.
Volya’s leader Mareshki has already announced that in a future coalition, his force would claim the ministry for the economy.
A coalition with the United Patriots is embarrassing for Borissov’s GERB, which is affiliated to the European People’s Party. In his previous cabinets, patriotic forces have supported Borissov without being officially in coalition.
The United Patriots has built its popularity on anger about the flow of migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia trying to reach Western Europe via the Balkans.
On Friday, supporters of the alliance blocked Bulgaria’s border crossings with Turkey in an effort to stop buses bringing Bulgarian ethnic Turks to vote in Sunday’s election.
Votes for sale
The scourge of graft – ever-present in Bulgaria – loomed over the poll, with prosecutors saying 79 electoral fraud probes had been launched.
Political analyst Antoni Galabov said 15% of the votes are result of vote-buying. He added this was not new, and the same proportion is estimated to apply for all elections lately.
The Nova television channel said it had filmed ballots being offered for sale for as little as €15. Voter apathy and disillusionment with the main parties were also widespread.
“The big parties are totally disconnected from the reality of what is going on in Bulgaria and that is outright irresponsible,” said IT worker Alexander Naydenov, 35.
Bulgaria will take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU from 1 January 2018. Sofia has yet to nominate a Commissioner since former Commission Vice-President Kristalina Georgieva resigned to take a job at the World Bank on 31 December.