Conservatives led by Boyko Borisov take lead in Bulgarian elections

Political instability with back-to-back snap polls and the ongoing cost of living crisis have led to resentment towards mainstream political parties, evident in the low voter turnout of just 39.40%

October 06, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Bulgarian Elections
From the election campaign of the GERB-SDS coalition led by Boyko Borisov. (Photo: via Facebook)

In the snap elections held to the 240-seat Bulgarian National Assembly on Sunday, October 2, the pro-European Union (EU) conservative coalition of the Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) and the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) led by former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov emerged as the single largest bloc with 67 seats (+8) and 25.33% of the votes. The pro-EU liberal coalition We Continue the Change (PP) led by former Prime Minister Kiril Petkov managed to secure 53 seats (-14) with 20.20% votes. Meanwhile, eurosceptic, nationalist groups like Revival and Bulgarian Rise made significant gains, securing 27 (+14) and 12 (+12) seats, respectively. The populist camp of There Is Such a People (ITN) lost all of its 25 seats from the previous assembly; the center-left Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) ended up with 25 seats (-1); the liberal coalition Democratic Bulgaria won 20 seats (+4); and the Turkish minority-led Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) managed 36 seats (+2).

The elections were held following the ouster of the Petkov-led coalition government through a no-confidence vote in the National Assembly in June this year. Petkov’s coalition lost its majority when ITN withdrew support to the coalition over disagreements on the lifting of the Bulgarian veto on North Macedonia’s accession to the EU. These were the third snap polls to take place in Bulgaria since the inconclusive general elections of April 4, 2021.

The GERB-led coalition under Borisov which ruled Bulgaria from 2009 to 2021 was ousted from power in the general elections of April 2021. Under Borisov’s rule, racism, xenophobia, corruption, attacks on the press, and organized crime spiked in the country. Anti-corruption protests started in July 2020 demanding his resignation. The protests ended only in April 2021 when the four-year term of his cabinet ended with the formal resignation of the third Borisov government. 

Cashing in on the anti-corruption protests against Borisov, ITN, led by Bulgarian television celebrity Slavi Trifonov, emerged as a major political bloc in the two consecutive elections held after Borisov’s ouster – in April and July 2021, However, it failed to form a stable government as it lacked a simple majority and failed to form post-poll coalitions. In the elections held in November 2021, Petkov came to power. ITN supported the Petkov-led coalition from December 2021 to July 2022.However, its opportunistic maneuvers ultimately led to the fall of the government, perpetuating the political instability prevailing since April 2021 and forcing the country to go for fresh snap polls on October 2. 

Critics point out that Borisov is now set to return due to the disunity among the populist and liberal sections in the country. On the other hand, the influence and popularity of the center-left Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) is also declining, reportedly due to rifts in the party and its unpopular leadership. 

The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war has also caused serious ruptures within Bulgarian society, with considerable polarization between pro-EU and pro-Russian sections. In the latest elections, there was a surge in support for eurosceptic, nationalist parties due to sizable sections of Russophiles among the Bulgarian population. 

The ongoing cost of living crisis marked by high prices of fuel and food and the prevailing political instability with back-to-back inconclusive elections has caused severe resentment toward the political parties, especially towards ITN which failed to form a stable government after Borisov’s exit. The widespread public disenchantment is visible in the extremely low voter turnout for this election at just 39.40%.

Even though Borisov’s conservative coalition has emerged as the single largest bloc, it still needs support from at least two major political blocs to form a stable government. According to several analysts, it is highly unlikely that liberals and socialists will support a Borisov-led government. Borisov may be forced to seek the support of pro-Russian, eurosceptic nationalists, or the Turkish minority-led DPS. If he is unable to do so, Bulgaria may plunge into more political chaos in the midst of an acute cost of living crisis.

Prior to the polls, on September 27, Bulgarian trade union Podkrepa stated, “Bulgaria remains at the bottom of the EU in income, wages and, first and above all, inequality in society. Immigration, especially labor, remains at high levels and undermines the future of the nation. We are in the midst of another election, but most politicians and mainstream political forces still don’t see the ‘elephant’ in the room. They prefer to look for the problem in an under-functional ‘democratic’ system and ‘rule of law’, circumventing the proven fact that working democracies and law-based states are social states.”

“Today we want our and European politicians to work solutions against the deepening crisis, to protect working people and the weak in society. We have no intention to pay for other people’s mistakes, mania, phobias, as well as for anyone’s political, ideological and geopolitical obsessions! Not on our backs too!” added the union.