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19th Aug 2022

Centre-right wins landslide victory in Bulgarian elections

Bulgaria's Socialist-led coalition government suffered a severe blow in the general elections on Sunday (5 July), which saw a high turnout and a clear-cut victory for the centre-right opposition Gerb party of Sofia mayor Boiko Borisov.

Gerb, or Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria, had nearly 40 percent (39.7%) of the votes with almost all ballots counted on Monday morning, the Central Electoral Commission said on its website.

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The Socialists came second with barely 17.7 percent, followed by the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) at 14.5 percent, the far-right Ataka (9.4%), and the right-wing Blue Coalition (6.7%).

Mr Borisov said he would now engage in talks with the right-wing groups that have made it in the parliament – the Blue Coalition, Ataka and the Order, Lawfulness, Justice party which obtained a little over the threshold of four percent (4.13%) – in order to try and form a right-wing coalition government.

"I hope we will be able to form a government as soon as possible," Mr Borisov, likely to become the country's new prime minister, said at a press conference on Sunday night.

"Taking into account the inheritance we get, I can't promise miracles in the next five or six months," he added.

Gerb almost doubled its result compared to the European elections a month ago, where it was also the clear winner with 24.4 percent, ahead of the Socialists (18.5%) and DPS (14.1%).

"Nobody expected such a result," Vessela Tcherneva, a senior policy analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, told EUobserver.

"People want change, they want this [Socialist] government to go," she added.

Former bodyguard

The 50-year-old mayor of Sofia has a "tough guy" reputation among Bulgarians and has won over many of them with his image of a "man of the people" and his repeated pledges to end corruption and organised crime.

"I vote for a European Bulgaria, which has to prove that it is not the poorest and most corrupt country in Europe," he said after casting his vote on Sunday.

Mr Borisov was previously chief secretary in the interior ministry and bears the rank of general. He is also a former fire-fighter, has a black belt in karate and used to be the bodyguard of former communist leader Todor Zhivkov and ex-king-turned-premier Simeon Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha in the 1990s.

In an article last week, French daily Le Monde underlined Mr Borisov's "warm relations" with French president Nicolas Sarkozy due to their "common traits of character" and said that in 2004, the Bulgarian offered Mr Sarkozy a gun in exchange for 150 new Renault and Peugeot cars offered by the then French interior minister.

The Sofia mayor's character and charisma undoubtedly played "an important role" in the election result, Ms Tcherneva said.

The analyst added she expected him to deliver concrete results both for reasons of image and of substance.

With the economic crisis likely to hit Bulgaria hardest in the autumn, it will be crucial for Mr Borisov to convince the European Commission to unblock funds that are still frozen due to corruption concerns, Ms Tcherneva said.

Additionally, Mr Borisov still has an unclear reputation among other EU leaders – "people wonder how to look at him" – and this will be an important motivation for him to prove himself, she added.

Socialist government linked with EU failures

With more than four million of the almost 7 million Bulgarians eligible to vote showing up on Sunday, the turnout in these elections was over 60 percent – five percent more than the previous vote in 2005 (55.7%) and 20 percent more than the European elections one month ago (40%).

The high turnout shows that "people are returning to politics," outgoing Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev told the press.

Mr Stanishev's government is credited with getting Bulgaria in the EU in January 2007, but was also strongly criticised for its failure to deal with widespread corruption in the Balkan country.

The government was blamed for irreversibly losing €220 million of pre-accession EU funding last year over the persistent corruption problems, with millions more of EU money still frozen and at risk, unless Sofia delivers some results.

The vote is "political punishment" for Mr Stanishev's government and is linked to Bulgaria's "so far failed EU membership," Vladimir Shopov, an independent political analyst told EUobserver.

"It has been an important element among the so-called 'middle generation' and the young people," who massively voted for Gerb, Mr Shopov said.

With Mr Borisov coming to power, a change in both the tone and the style in the government's relations with the "European partners" can now be expected, he added.

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