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Bulgaria: will the fifth election in two years finally lead to a new government?

Lora Lyubenova
PhD Candidate at Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski. Her research topic is “Political actors and interest groups, which influenced and shaped the European Pillar of Social Rights”

In the last two years, Bulgarians have cast their votes five times. After the transition in 1989, in the democratic history of Bulgaria, this political inability to form a government has never happened. Over two years, the previous four elections produced new political actors, new campaign slogans and coalitions, but no stable majority, able to form a functioning government. In times of different crises – the post-Covid-19 recovery, the war in Ukraine, the broken energy supply chains, high rate of inflation – the future Bulgarian government has to handle as quickly as possible the implementation of the Recovery and resilience plan for Bulgaria, the postponed acceptance into the Schengen-area as well as Eurozone membership and the high rate of inflation.  

On 2 April 2023, Bulgarian voters went to the polls, hoping to elect political parties able to solve the political crises and all the postponed political, social and economic issues. 

The election results did not produce a winner with a huge majority. Again, the votes were spread between the well-known political actors: 

  1. The coalition GERB–UDF: 26.49 per cent; 
  2. The coalition ‘Continuing the Change-Democratic Bulgaria: 24.57 per cent; 
  3. The party ‘Vazrashdane’:  14.16 per cent; 
  4. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms: 13.72 per cent; 
  5. The Bulgarian Socialist Party: 8.93 per cent; 
  6. The party ‘There is Such a People’: 4.11 per cent. 

During the campaign, the biggest political dispute was focused on which party or coalition would be able to lead the country and form the next government. Therefore, the competition mainly centred on the question of which party would be the biggest one and therefore have the first opportunity to try to form a government coalition.

The centre-right wing party of former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov came in first, making it look like the political establishment has gained back the support to run the country and to work on solving current political, social and economic crises. The second place was taken by the broad coalition of ‘Continuing the Change’ and ‘Democratic Bulgaria’ (which is itself a coalition of three other parties). This new coalition did not declare their political affiliation as left or right, but some of the parties belonging to Democratic Bulgaria are members of the European Peoples’ Party, so it is most likely that the new coalition will be associated with the centre-right. Both coalitions that gained the most voters belong to the centre-right and have shared common political positions in favour of Bulgaria entering the Schengen-area as well as the Eurozone and in support of Ukraine. But these coalitions are opposed because of their different visions for a reform of the country’s justice system. They are also perceived differently in the country’s political rhetoric, where GERB is branded as the ‘old’ political establishment, while ‘Continuing the Change’ is depicted as a ‘new’ political party, able to fight corruption in the country. The third place was taken by the nationalistic, pro-Russian and anti-European party ‘Vazrazhdane’. ‘Vazrazhdane’, which had announced that they would only enter a government coalition if they were to lead it, was the biggest winner of the five rounds of elections over the last two years: while, in April 2021, it still did not pass the electoral threshold, it has now become the third political force. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (MRF), an ethnic Turkish party, came in fourth. The MRF traditionally enjoys high support from abroad, mainly by Bulgarian Turks in Turkey. Over the recent five elections, the support for the Bulgarian Socialist Party has steadily decreased, from the third position to fifth one. The surprise of this recent election round was that the party of former TV showman Slavi Trifonov, ‘There is such a people’, returned to parliament, and that the parties ‘Bulgarian Rise’ and ‘The Left’ did not pass the threshold.

The new election results show that after five rounds, GERB has reconfirmed its position as a leading party, ready form a government led by former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov who calls for a grand coalition between the two biggest electoral coalitions, which are both centre-right and broadly pro-European. However, ‘Continuing the Change’ was the first party which announced it will not support a government led by GERB.

Now, the question remains whether the two biggest electoral coalitions can form any government between themselves or with other parties, or if Bulgaria will face still another round of general elections, perhaps together with local elections this autumn. And the other, even more important, question is: how much will it cost Bulgarian politicians, in terms of political support, if they do not manage to form a government and make new elections necessary again?

Aside from the numbers of voters for the political winners, it needs to be considered that more than 100,000 voters ticked the option ‘I do not support anyone’ in these elections. In April 2021, this option was still only chosen by less than 50.000 voters. This increase indicates that the political perma-crisis pushes citizens to cast their votes to distance themselves from the political establishment. And another important fact is that the smallest party to pass the threshold, ‘There is Such a People’ managed to convince fewer voters than those who chose not to support any party. This also means that voters who did not support any party could have a small political group inside the parliament. 

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